By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Gradually the North Korean President Kim Jong Un may be writing himself into the good side of history books. On Friday, in conjunction with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, took the bold step towards peace in the Korean Peninsula and by extension, the world in general. On this day, Kim became the first in the line of North Korean leaders to visit the demilitarised zone and South Korea since the armistice in 1953.
This is a big step forward, not only for the Koreans but the whole world that has been worried over events in the countries and the rivalry between them. Time practically stood still as history recorded favourably the start of a journey to peace and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. The excitement was thick in the air and Kim wrote in a guest book: “A new history begins now – at the starting point of history and the era of peace.”
The host, Moon, could not hide his excitement on this morning as he met Kim in the demilitarised zone. This is understandable, as until recently, he was never at ease, not knowing what his younger counterpart was up to. As he accepted the historic handshake, he smiled assuredly like a man confident that he has “changed the game”. The looks on the faces of both leaders gave a glimmer of hope that the Koreans’ may be determined to make this work and have a shot at “improving the lots of their people”.
The North Korean leader made sure his host also played a big part in the unfolding event when Moon took a walk into his country. Hand in hand the two of them walked into North Korea side of the divide and smiled for the cameras. This gesture signified a huge step in diplomacy for the Koreans, especially Kim who until a few months ago was walking the lonely road to becoming the leader of a pariah state.
The change for Kim has been dramatic. Here was a leader who was labelled “evil” in modern-day diplomacy. You would not blame this perception of him, as he acted like a man on a mission to self-destruct. Not only to self-destruct, but also take as many people as he can with him. He got stuck on the tattered path his grandfathers, his predecessors, had trodden, thereby making the country one of the real threats to world peace.
Kim recorded history for the sporadic manners he launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The memories of this young leader smiling in his usual coy manner to the cameras and giving “hi fives” to his subordinates after every nuclear test is still fresh in our minds. The world took his threats seriously. At the height of his craziness last year, the UN Security Council adopted a US-led resolution, which bans mineral and seafood exports from North Korea. This sanction was reported to be worth more than one billion dollars.
The Korean Peninsula has always been a source of worries for world leaders. As a result of the serious escalation of tension on the peninsula, many analysts had predicted, at that time, there was likely to be a resumption of war in the region. The tension was not helped by the inflammatory statements of the United States President, Donald Trump. He was always on the case of the North Korean leader Kim, calling him “rocket man”.
Last Friday, the “eyes of the world” were on the demilitarised zone and the Peace House in Panmunjom. The world media reported for duty there, as every step of Kim and Moon were beamed live to all corners of the world. The expectations from the summit were high, but some observers cautioned it might be another “summit to nowhere.” The Korean states had previously met on two occasions in 2000 and 2007, but there was no progress beyond the meeting halls.
The “Panmunjom Declaration” seemed to have moved a step further than the past summits. A few world leaders have expressed their respect to the Koreans for the effort at resolving their differences. Surprisingly, a one-time critic of Kim, Trump tweeted – “After a furious year of missile launches and Nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” And added: “KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States and all of its GREAT people should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!”
Trump was merely repeating the resolution agreed at the summit. The Korean leaders addressed a joint press conference and pledged to work towards peace and security in the region. They agreed to make positive efforts towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. They also plan to kickstart a four-way process involving the US and China to change the armistice to a Peace Treaty.
This meeting is expected to speed up the arrangements for the meeting between Trump and Kim. While no specific clarification has been made on the denuclearization of North Korea, (not Korea Peninsula), and no reference to human rights abuses, there is hope that Trump will be “bold” enough to whisper these in Kim’s ears when he meets him later in the year. The South Koreans realise there won’t be any progress without the backing of the US government and the reason why Moon had weighed in seriously on Trump meeting Kim.
Apart from the serious business, the world had the opportunity to see another side of Kim. The image of the North Korean leader in the minds of people was a dictator who gets his kicks launching or testing nuclear missiles or denying the citizens their human rights. This meeting gave Kim the opportunity, for the first time, to “meet” the world.
Though not used to it, Kim did not mince words, as he expressed delight at the joint summit. He said: “It took a long time for the two Koreas to come together and to hold hands and we have long waited for this moment to happen, all of us.” He told the world that the summit had opened his eyes to see that all Koreans are the “same people” that cannot be separated.”
While it is agreed that there are lots of works to be done to meet the “hot points” identified in the “Panmunjom Declaration”, one cannot doubt that it signifies the start of a personal relationship between Kim and Moon. The chemistry between them has also increased the hope that they will be committed to taking the peace move farther than the Friday meeting. Kim and Moon smiled in each other’s faces, held hands, had bear hugs to the delight of Koreans and the world. You could see the hearts of these two men beating rhythmically, side by side with a desire to make the declaration work.
The unification of the Koreans has not started yet, but Kim and Moon are on the path to experiencing peaceful co-existence. The next step will be known when Trump meets Kim, in a few weeks. Till then, it is fingers crossed.
As written for the Diaspora Column, Sunday Vanguard, April 29, 2018.