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DPRK-ROK Relations - 2011-20xx - KIM Jong Un

One of the top priorities of the Moon Jae-in government was an end-of-war declaration. By 2021, the Moon government was running out of time, so it should make greater diplomatic efforts to fulfill its goal. Many expect that Biden’s serious attitude toward North Korea, compared to Trump’s impromptu approach, will help address North Korea-related issues more stably.

In a written response to lawmakers as part of his confirmation process, on 03 February 2021 Seoul's foreign minister nominee Chung Eui-yong vowed to speed up the peace process on the Korean Peninsula by taking part in talks on putting a formal end to the Korean War. Chung said a declaration ending the war is part of Pyeongyang's path to denuclearization. Talks on making such a declaration, he said, will reignite the peace process. Also, with new leadership now in the United States, Chung pledged to improve South Korea's relations with Japan and strengthen cooperation among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Seoul's defense ministry planned to carry out the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement aimed at reducing tensions along the border and push for periodic military meetings between the two Koreas. Its policy plan for the year released on 21 January 2021 includes creating an action plan to get rid of all guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone which was agreed upon in the 2018 military agreement. Defense Minister Suh Wook said in a briefing at Cheong Wa Dae that if North Korea responds positively, it will push to hold inter-Korean military meetings on a regular basis through a joint committee.

The two Koreas have yet to launch the inter-Korean joint committee, though its establishment was first agreed upon in 1992. But it's been garnering attention as President Moon Jae-in stated that the two Koreas can discuss whether to postpone or cancel South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises through such a channel. North Korea has vehemently opposed the joint exercises.

Regarding North Korea's display of various missiles, Suh said the South Korean military will continue to secure key assets, such as powerful ballistic missiles, and improve its Cheolmae-II surface-to-air missile interceptors to prepare against the North's threats. The ministry plans to also incorporate advanced tech from the so-called "Fourth Industrial Revolution" such as artificial intelligence, drones and robots to boost capabilities and prepare against the shrinking future manpower as the country faces a demographic cliff.

The ministry also said it'll expedite work on the envisioned transfer of operational control from Washington to Seoul and that if the U.S. wants to modify the level of U.S. troops stationed in the country it requires the South Korean government's cooperation in the process.

In South Korea, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court regard North Korea “as an anti-government organization” and define inter-Korean ties as “a special relationship that has been formed temporarily in the course of pursuing unification.” South Korea’s perception or designation of North Korea has changed over time, from “an anti-government organization that claims the title of state” to “the other party, with which South Korea is in special relations and should pursue peaceful unification together.” So, South Korea may not recognize North Korea as a state but regards it as a party it can hold talks with. Still, North Korea is defined by South Korea as “a group of many people occupying a particular region”.

North Korea’s foreign relations are shaped by a mixture of historical, nationalistic, ideological, and pragmatic considerations. The territorial division of the peninsula looms large in the political thinking of North Korean leaders and is a driving force in their management of internal and external affairs. Over the centuries, unequal relations, foreign depredation, dependence on foreigners for assorted favors, and the emulation of foreign cultures and institutions are less the exception than the rule in Korea’s perceptions of the outside world. These patterns give rise to the widely shared assumption among Koreans that their capacity to control their national destiny is limited by geopolitical constraints.

While not denying that South Koreans were in a new reconciliation mood with the North in the aftermath of the Sunshine Policy, this mood is subject to several constraints. First is the sober realization that the U.S. military presence is still critical to South Korean security. Demonstrations protesting that presence died down significantly after Washington initiated plans to reduce its troops on the peninsula as part of a larger realignment of forces in Asia.

Second, changes in North Korea’s nuclear posture could result in changes in the public perception. If part of the generosity toward the North stemmed from an inner confidence in Seoul that South Korea holds decisive superiority across all national indicators of power, the 2006 nuclear test by the North altered those visions. Third, it remained unclear whether any of the impact of the Sunshine Policy has reached deep into North Korea. Should these engagement efforts reveal no change in North Korean preferences over the long term, South Korean supporters of the policy might be discouraged.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2014

A high-level delegation from North Korea, which included the North's second most powerful, Hwang Pyong-so, top North Korean military official Choe Ryong-hae [director of the military's General Political Bureau], and Kim Yang-gon, who had been the North's top policymaker in charge of inter-Korean affairs since 2007, made a rare, brief and unexpected trip south of the border on 04 October 2014. The surprise visit by three, high-level North Korean officials to the South had observers wondering what their motive might have been. Hwang Pyong-So was believed to have been installed as North Korea’s new No.2, which would make him the third person in that position since December 2013, indicating instability and indecision in the government of Kim Jong-Un, the inexperienced 31-year-old leader. The surprise visit was ostensibly made to attend the Asian Games closing ceremony.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2016

The Kaesong industrial park first opened in 2004 as part of the "sunshine" reconciliation policy reached between the authoritarian North and democratic South in the late 1990s, and is the last remaining symbol of cross-border cooperation. Over 120 South Korean companies operated factories in Kaesong, employing more than 53,000 North Korean workers at an annual cost of $100 million, providing a source of badly needed hard currency for the impoverished North.

South Korea on 10 February 2016 suspended operations at the Kaesong park to prevent Pyongyang from using the proceeds from the industrial park to fund the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The North ordered all South Korean nationals to leave the complex, said it was seizing all materials left behind and declared it a military zone. It also said it was cutting off all military communications with Seoul, including the hotline at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The main opposition Democratic Party hinted at revising policy measures on North Korea pursued by the current and past administrations. Speaking at a forum in parliament 16 December 2016 on the assessment and future prospects of North Korea policies, Floor Leader Woo Sang-ho criticized hard-line policies pushed by conservative governments in the past decade. He said the policies only served to strain inter-Korean relations, accelerate an arms race in Northeast Asia and destabilize the region.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2017

President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who expressed a desire to reach out to Pyongyang unlike his predecessors in the last decade, fired a warning 08 June 2017 that all North Korea will get from provocations are further international isolation and more economic difficulties. "As I have repeatedly said before, I will not back off a single step or make any compromise on matters concering national security and public safety."

Chairing his first full meeting of the National Security Council, the new South Korean leader ordered the military to maintain full readiness to react immediately to any North Korean provocations. At the same time, he left open the possibility of engagement. "If North Korea shows willingness to denuclearize, we will lead the way and help the North earn support and cooperation from the international community."

But, to his chief officials President Moon stressed the need for a fundamentally different approach in addressing the North Korean problem. "The president stressed that what's key for South Korea at this point is to explore creative and fundamental ways to deter North Korea's provocations and resolve the North's nuclear problem."

President Moon Jae-in's foreign policy advisor said 16 June 2017 if North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile activities, South Korea in return would reduce the scale of its annual military exercises with the US.

Speaking at a Woodrow Wilson Center seminar, Presidential Special Adviser Moon Chung-in said Seoul favors linking denuclearization to a peace treaty, and resuming the six party talks. "If North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities, then we may consult with the U.S. about scaling down U.S.-ROK joint exercises and training. I think what he has in mind is we may scale down deployment of American strategic weapons over the Korean Peninsula"

He explained that the South Korean government now pursues "incremental, comprehensive and fundamental" denuclearization of North Korea, beginning with a freeze on its nuclear and missile programs.

In a speech in Berlin on on 06 July 2017, President Moon proposed the two Koreas ease border tension on the 64th anniversary of the inter-Korean armistice on July 27th and arrange inter-Korean family reunions on the October fourth Chuseok holiday. The president also suggested the North participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea in February. The South Korean government was expected to extend official proposals for inter-Korean military and Red Cross talks. A Unification Ministry official on 07 July 2017 revealed the follow-up plans to President Moon Jae-in's proposals for easing border tension and arranging inter-Korean family reunions. In the wake of Moon's suggestions during his speech in Berlin, the ministry had begun drawing up details for the envisioned inter-Korean events, including official invitations. Military talks must be held within a week or two as Moon proposed withdrawing hostile military acts in the demilitarized zone on the 64th anniversary of the inter-Korean armistice on July 27th. Seoul was seeking family reunions in October 2017.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2018

The 27 April 2018 inter-Korean summit was the first in over 10 years, held at the Peace House, on the South Korean side of Panmunjom. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands with President Moon Jae-in and as he crossed over the demarcation line, becoming the first North Korean leader to step foot on South Korean soil in over sixty years. But what took many by surprise was when Kim invited President Moon to cross the border to the North Korean side,and Moon accepted that invitation with a beaming smile. The two leaders briefly stepped over the MDL, before returning to the South Korean side to head towards the Peace House, the main venue for today's event.

For the first time in history, President Moon and Kim Jong-un held a joint press conference after signing the "Panmunjom Declaration". President Moon and Kim both declared there will no longer be war on the Korean Penisula and a new era of peace has begun. They pledged to cooperate to deescalate military tension by halting all aggression in any form and to realize a "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The agreement also says the two leaders will seek to make an official declaration of the end of war within this year; the two Koreas technically remain at war as the 1950-53 war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. A reunion of separated families will also take place in this coming August 15th. And President Moon will pay a return visit to Pyongyang this fall.

Under a deal which was signed on September 19, 2018, the two Koreas agreed to stop all hostile acts against each other. South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held summits in Pyongyang from September 18th to the 20th. As President Moon walked down a red carpet laid in front of the crowd, he showed his gratitude for the welcome with a deep bow. Although this is common courtesy in South Korea,… for North Koreans, a deep bow is only reserved as a sign of upmost respect for someone in a position of authority. Moon's modest demeanor could have a more powerful and lasting effect in changing the North Korean public's perspective of the South than millions of propaganda leaflets.

The Joint Declaration included substantive yet limited denuclearization steps. Permanent shutdown of the Dongchang-ri missile engine testing facility and missile launch pad under the participation of experts from related countries. the DPRK eExpressed willingness to continue taking additional steps, scu as permanent shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This did not include Washington's continued demand for a list of North Korea's nuclear arsenal and inspections to verify such inventory.

The two Koreas agreed to boost economic exchanges on the basis of co-prosperity, and take substantive measures to develop the economy. First, the two leaders agreed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony linking rail and roads along the east and west coasts within this year and discuss the possibility of creating special economic and tourism zones along the coasts. Second, there are plans to reopen the Gaesong Industrial Complex, a symbol of cross-border economic cooperation, which opened in 2004 but has been shut down since 2016 amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula following North Korea's nuclear test. South and North Korea will jointly bid to host the Olympics in 2032.

President Moon Jae-in stated " we have agreed that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, we have solemnly announced both to our 80 million fellow Koreans and to the international community that a new era of peace has dawned on the Peninsula.... We love peace. And we should live together. We lived together for over 5,000 years and have been separated for 70 years. . , , . . . I propose today to completely end this 70-year separation and take a big step towards peace. Chairman Kim and I will firmly join hands and work to build a new fatherland. "

South Korea's Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo, and his North Korean counterpart No Kwang-chol, signed a comprehensive military agreement 19 September 2018. The military agreement stated various specific details to realize the goal of ceasing hostile acts against each other, and building mutual trust.

President Moon credited Kim for keeping his promises made with U.S. President Donald Trump at the first-ever North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore. The promises being, no more nuclear or missile tests. Moon said the two Koreas were not far from reaching their final destination of building peace on the peninsula, that was without nuclear weapons or nuclear threats.

President Moon Jae-in visited the southern summit of Baekdusan Mountain on the last day of his Pyeongyang trip. Baekdusan Mountain is the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, and it sits on the border between China and North Korea. The mountain is considered as one of the most sacred places on the Korean peninsula, and it carries immense significance both historical and cultural for both Koreas. It is an important site in the mythology of the modern North Korean regime as the birthplace of the Mount Paektu bloodline. North Korean legend holds that was Kim Jong Il's birth was of a divine and sacred nature that occurred on Mount Paektu. North Korean propaganda holds that the nation's founder, Kim Il-sung, led a resistance against Japan's occupation of the peninsula from bases on Mount Paektu, and that his son Kim Jong-il was born there.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2019

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2020

North Korea confirmed 16 June 2020 it destroyed an inter-Korean officee, which was located inside North Korea, and cut all communication lines with South Korea. In a word, North Korea made it clear that it would completely sever its relations with South Korea. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the destruction of the building happened in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. KCNA stated: The joint-liaison office was "tragically ruined with a terrific explosion" — a move that is "corresponding to the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes." The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un days earlier said the North would demolish a “useless” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong and that she would leave it to the military to come up with the next step of retaliation against the “enemy” South.

North Korea’s military on 16 June 2020 threatened to move back into zones that were demilitarised under inter-Korean peace agreements as the country continued to dial up pressure on rival South Korea amid stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration. The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said it’s reviewing a ruling party recommendation to advance into unspecified border areas that had been demilitarised under agreements with the South, which would “turn the front line into a fortress.”

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that it can revert to its pledge to turn Seoul into a sea of fire, followed by even more horrible threats depending on whether the South watches its language. The North first used the “sea of fire” expression in 1994 after the North expelled international nuclear inspectors and had been frequently brought up since then as Pyongyang issued a new threat against Seoul.

North Korea, which had mobilised people for massive demonstrations condemning defectors, is deliberately censuring the South to rally its public and shift attention away from a worsening economy. Although Kim Jong-un had declared a “frontal breakthrough” against sanctions, experts say the Covid-19 crisis likely thwarted many of his economic goals.

Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, labeled Moon’s recent remarks on inter-Korean cooperation as “shameless sophistry.” Seoul’s presidential office took the unprecedented step of warning the North to stop its senseless actions and mind its manners. "In particular, we hope that the North shows basic courtesy from now on." South Korea’s defense and unification ministries also warned that the North will pay the price should it step over the line.

North Korea’s destruction of a landmark liaison office with South Korea was likely only the first of many steps Pyongyang can take to signal impatience with Seoul and its ally Washington. North Korea now has no option but to continue to provoke the South, as quickly returning to negotiations would be a sign of weakness to its people. If it has only appeared in the external propaganda media, it is possible to change the direction. But it is impossible to change the policy in one day because it has been published in [North Korea’s official] newspaper and the North Koreans have heard about it.

North Korea decided to suspend military actions against South Korea. The move comes as a surprise, given that Pyongyang had churned out scathing criticisms of South Korea and followed through on its threats by blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong. It was widely believed that the North would soon push ahead with its military action plans.

On 23 June 2020, the North Korean leader decided to hold off on the plans at the preliminary meeting of the Central Military Commission, which is a very unfamiliar conference. It seems North Korea has put the brakes on military confrontation with South Korea temporarily. After watching how South Korea will react, it may decide whether to cancel the plans altogether or resume them at a future military meeting. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a preliminary meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party and decided to put on hold military action plans against South Korea. The plans had been led by Kim Yo-jong, who is the leader’s sister and the first vice department director of the Central Committee of the party. It marked the first time that the country convened such a meeting since Kim Jong-un came to power.

Previously, the General Staff of the North Korean military presented four military action plans: the deployment of troops to the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Geumgang area; the resumption of military exercises in the West Sea; the preparation of sending its own propaganda leaflets to South Korea; and the reestablishment of sentry posts along the Demilitarized Zone. North Korea was actually seen preparing for military action in border areas.

North Korea’s decision brought a sudden change of mood in the extremely-tense inter-Korean relations. North Korea has dismantled loudspeakers that had been reinstalled along the border. Articles and comments criticizing South Korea have disappeared from Pyongyang’s state media, including the Rodong Sinmun newspaper. Meanwhile, propaganda outlets withdrew their articles condemning South Korea all at once. North Korea’s strident criticism of the South had continued since Kim Yo-jong’s aggressive statement on June 4, but now it seems to have vanished. As North Korea removed about 30 propaganda loudspeakers, the DMZ area had restored peace.

Domestically, the regime found it necessary to create and bash an enemy outside the country. This was in order to deal with increasingly negative public sentiment as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and economic difficulties. Now, it believes that going any further may backfire. So the top leader was seeking a new direction, while taking a breather, and observing Seoul’s attitude for some time. North Korea seems to be pleased with the first-phase provocation, which it believes has produced its intended effect.

Some speculate that the leader and his sister Kim Yo-jong are playing “good cop, bad cop,” respectively, and the sister has emerged as the leader’s potential successor. But many analysts do not really think Kim Yo-jong is the successor. While she continued to denounce South Korea as the “bad cop,” everything changed suddenly after her brother’s order. In a sense, she may have overacted incorrectly. North Korea never humiliates a successor. She could be recognized as North Korea’s second-in-command, but not as a successor yet.

DPRK-ROK Relations - 2021

South Korean President Moon Jae-in entered his fifth and effectively last year in office. In 2021, he faced daunting tasks ahead, including solving the COVID-19 situation and defusing the confrontation between the presidential office and the prosecution. Promoting the peace process on the Korean Peninsula was another challenging mission amid the rapidly changing global politics.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young said on 04 January 2021 that a major breakthrough could be made in inter-Korean relations this year. Unification Minister Lee said that in a superhero film Thor, an event known as the Convergence occurs when all nine realms are placed into alignment to cause the strong spirit of the universe to focus on Thor. Citing the movie, he said that he believed a great transition like this or a major breakthrough focused on peace on the Korean Peninsula is ready to begin.

The South Korean government was likely to continue with its policy of appeasement with North Korea this year. The Unification Minister said that North Korea was expecting the South to send a more positive message of dialogue and cooperation. If the two Koreas manage to take a first step toward bilateral cooperation properly in the first half of the year, the Korean Peninsula peace process will be on track in the second half. Judging from his remarks, the government will work to produce some positive result in inter-Korean ties this year.

North Korea seemed to believe that it can mend ties with South Korea and get much more from the South only after an improvement in North Korea-U.S. relations. Many analysts say that South Korea should take the lead in addressing inter-Korean affairs, considering that its North Korea policy influences Washington’s policy toward the Korean Peninsula. Typically, the Democratic governments in the U.S. have reflected the South Korean government’s position when carrying out their own North Korea policy. Given that, if the South Korean government makes a creative proposal, the U.S. government, which values its allies, may respect it.

North Korea kicked off the eighth congress of the Workers’ Party on 05 January 2021. South Korea previously expressed hope to mend inter-Korean ties through quarantine cooperation, humanitarian aid and South Koreans’ individual tours to the North. But the North Korean leader said that it would be impossible to improve the relations through these inessential issues. As for more essential matters, he demanded that South Korea stop introducing high-tech military equipment and conducting the combined military exercises with the U.S. He also demanded that South Korea faithfully implement inter-Korean agreements. Otherwise, he said it would be difficult for inter-Korean relations to return to that spring of three years ago.

In a keynote speech to the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on 21 September 2021, President Moon suggested that the three parties of the two Koreas and the U.S., or the four parties of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China, come together and declare that the war on the Korean Peninsula is over. In a press conference, the South Korean president explained that it is more of a political declaration to end the war and enter peace negotiations.

The Moon Jae-in government has continued to mention an end-of-war declaration at the U.N. The issue is also included in the Panmunjom Declaration that was adopted at the first inter-Korean summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April 2018. Cross-border ties have been at a standstill since the second North Korea-U.S. summit collapsed in Hanoi in February 2019. To break the deadlock and reactivate the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, Moon seems to have once again brought up the end-of-war declaration issue. The South Korean government wishes to declare an end to the war first, not waiting for North Korea to make a proposal or take action.

Moon specifically pointed to a three or four-way declaration this year. The get-together of leaders from the three or four countries, if realized, would be a high-profile diplomatic event. It appears that the Moon government is making efforts to revive the top-down approach taken by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and former U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea made an immediate response to Moon’s proposal to formally end the Korean War. Early in the morning of September 24, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae-song said in a statement that an end-of-war declaration would be a mere scrap of paper as long as the U.S. maintains its hostile policy toward the North. In seven hours, Kim Yo-jong announced her statement, in which she said that Moon’s proposal could be an admirable idea if South Korea withdraws its hostile policy. The following day, Kim announced another statement, hinting at an inter-Korean summit.

The North Korean Vice Foreign Minister’s statement showed that the North rejected Moon’s offer. Kim Yo-jong, on the other hand, made a positive response to the South Korean president’s proposal in her back-to-back statements, even mentioning a possible inter-Korean summit. But the North also made it clear that South Korea must abandon its hostile policy and double standards before declaring an end to the war and mending ties with the North. Pyongyang’s actions and attitude were open to various interpretations.

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Page last modified: 03-10-2021 15:14:06 ZULU