The inter-Korean summit and the US-DPRK summit held in 2018 were significant events that attracted large-scale global attention. The inter-Korean summit, held on 27 April 2018, started with a handshake between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un on the border at Panmunjom, and ended with the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration. Following the inter-Korean summit, US President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim met in Singapore on 12 June 2018 and signed a US-DPRK joint statement. The two declarations are closely interrelated, as the latter declaration built on the former declaration. During the summits, what exactly did the leaders agree on? This section will provide a brief overview of the declarations.
A. Third Inter-Korean Summit: The Panmunjom Declaration
The Panmunjom Declaration, officially titled the “Panmunjom Declaration on Peace, Prosperity, and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula”,
focuses on three main areas: (1) improving inter-Korean relations; (2) alleviating military tensions; and (3) establishing a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
First, in the Panmunjom Declaration, the two leaders agreed on improving inter-Korean relations. The two leaders agreed that the future of the two Koreas, including unification, depends solely upon the two Koreas,
i.e. without any interference from third-party states. This is in accordance with Article 2(7) of the Charter of the United Nations [UN Charter] under which states have a duty not to intervene in the domestic matters of other states.
The two leaders also agreed that inter-Korean talks must continue, and that these talks should focus on denuclearization, as well as other areas such as humanitarian engagement and cultural issues.
Additionally, the two leaders agreed on conducting several joint activities and creating joint establishments, such as establishing a joint liaison office, jointly participating in international events, reconvening Inter-Korean Red Cross talks, and co-ordinating joint economic projects.
Recently, following the summit, athletes from the two Koreas marched together during the 2018 Asian Games opening ceremony, and also family members separated during the Korean War were briefly reunited during a one-week period in August 2018.
Improving inter-Korean relations is essential in narrowing the seventy-three-year gap between the two Koreas. As long as the two Koreas comply with the Panmunjom Declaration in good faith, inter-Korean relations will ultimately reach a point where the gap, at least in the cultural and social sense, no longer exists.
Second, the Panmunjom Declaration deals with alleviating military tensions. Because the two Koreas are technically still at war, military tensions remain high. Thus, alleviating military tensions is not only of interest to the two Koreas, but is also important to the international community. However, achieving this will take time and effort. To alleviate these tensions, President Moon and Chairman Kim agreed to end all hostile acts, establish a maritime peace zone, and hold frequent military talks.
An end to hostile acts is reiterated in the Declaration, because although the 1953 Armistice Agreement and other previous inter-Korean agreements mention an end to hostile acts by the two Koreas, these acts did not cease. For example, in 2010, North Korea was found responsible for sinking South Korea’s navy ship, the Cheonan,
and for shelling a South Korean island, Yeonpyeong Island.
Also, according to the Panmunjom Declaration, hostile acts include loudspeaker broadcasting and leaflet distribution in the Demilitarized Zone.
Following the summit, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence immediately announced that it would remove these loudspeakers and it did do so within a few days of the signing of the Declaration.
The peoples of the two Koreas continue to live in fear, knowing that antagonism remains between the two Koreas. Unfortunately, the Panmunjom Declaration is not enough to guarantee that hostile acts will actually cease. The best legal guarantee for a complete cessation of hostile acts is a peace treaty.
Third, in the Panmunjom Declaration, the two leaders agreed to establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. With its most recent nuclear test on 3 September 2017, North Korea remains a threat to the international community.
Despite North Korea’s recent shift to a “charm offensive”, the international community has continued to put pressure on North Korea to commit to completing denuclearization. This is because it is too early to stop applying maximum pressure on North Korea, which continues to possess nuclear weapons and has failed to take concrete steps to denuclearize. Therefore, establishing a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is of the utmost priority. This requires not only a peace treaty officially ending the war, but also the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
To establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, President Moon and Chairman Kim agreed to a prohibition on the use of force, disarmament on the Korean Peninsula, the necessity of multilateral talks, and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
The prohibition on the use of force is a fundamental rule of international law, as stated in the UN Charter.
Therefore, any use of force against “the territorial integrity or political independence” of either of the two Koreas is prohibited.
However, while the two leaders agreed to carry out disarmament, the Declaration remains ambiguous as to how this should be done. First, Section 3(2) states that disarmament shall be carried out in a phased manner.
Without clarity on the meaning of the term “phased”, there is no apparent agreement on the impetus behind the choice of the phrase “disarmament in a phased manner”.
Second, Section 3(4) states that the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula”.
Ambiguity lies in the absence of a definition of denuclearization. South Korea’s interpretation of denuclearization is, in all probability, different from North Korea’s.
Only when the terms of denuclearization are clarified can complete denuclearization be achievable. As “the devil is in the detail”, the clarity of these terms is essential.
In conclusion, the Panmunjom Declaration is an important agreement because it articulates the aspirations considered important by the two Korean leaders for the future of the two Koreas. Also, the Panmunjom Declaration itself signals another attempt by the two Koreas to improve inter-Korean relations, alleviate military tensions, and establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Although the Declaration will remain an important historical document between the two Koreas, its legal effect on the cessation of the Korean War is an entirely different legal question, which will be further discussed in Part II.
B. Singapore Summit: US-DPRK Joint Statement
Following the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, President Trump and Chairman Kim met in Singapore on 12 June 2018 for an unprecedented summit, this being the first ever summit held between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. Similar to the inter-Korean summit, the Singapore summit resulted in a joint statement signed by the two leaders.
However, the brevity of the joint statement makes an in-depth analysis almost futile. President Trump and Chairman Kim agreed on four matters: (1) establishing a new US-DPRK relationship; (2) seeking permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula; (3) committing to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; and (4) recovering Prisoners of War/Missing in Action [POW/MIA] remains.
The fourth point regarding POW/MIA remains was implemented soon after, with North Korea returning fifty-five boxes of the remains of US soldiers killed in the Korean War to the US.
Although it will take a considerable time to identify these remains, this gesture by North Korea is an indication of its readiness to change and to commit to peace. Additionally, regarding the third point of agreement on complete denuclearization, North Korea has initiated closing down some buildings at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. However, the closing down of these buildings should not technically constitute concrete steps towards denuclearization because the Punggyre-ri site is just one of many nuclear sites and its total shut-down has not yet been verified.
Furthermore, the nuclear sites may no longer be useful, in the light of Chairman Kim’s declaration in his New Year’s speech that North Korea has already completed its nuclear programme.
To have the US fulfil its promises to provide security guarantees and economic assistance, North Korea must take concrete and verifiable steps to complete denuclearization.
In effect, fulfilment of the first two points of the joint statement are dependent on denuclearization.
Although the US-DPRK summit is unprecedented and reveals a significant change to US-DPRK relations, a complete normalization of US-DPRK relations cannot be achieved if North Korea continues to possess nuclear weapons. Only when North Korea completes denuclearization will the US reciprocate and fulfil its duties under the joint statement.