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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Making History at the 38th Parallel: Korean Leaders Pledged to Turn Armistice to Peace Treaty

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

History is awash with leaders who had been determined to achieve things that were closer to their individual hearts without playing to the gallery. When they set the wheels of their mission in motion, they were simply unstoppable and by strange coincidence, the ideals that sprang from individual souls, suddenly permeated into the contemporary collective soul of the times.

Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Tony Blair for instance, left indelible footprints in the sands of time by abolishing slavery, showing the power of Ahimsa and initiating Good Friday Agreement in ending the armed conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland respectively, to name but a few.

In this context, the psychological ingredients of the miracle that we witnessed on Friday in the Korean Peninsula stemmed from a man whose mission clearly resonates with those of the giants that made our history – Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea.

Mr Moon, a liberal, who has his roots in North Korea, was always in favour of maintaining better relations between the two countries. When the conservative, former president was forced to leave office prematurely, having been embroiled in a corruption scandal, Mr Moon seized upon the opportunity to be elected as the new president – and then embark on his life-long mission.

He, however, encountered a catalogue of serious of setbacks in the first few months in office, when his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, pursued an aggressive missile testing policy while beating war drums: Mr Kim threatened the US with a ballistic missile armed with a miniature nuclear device and sent a couple of them over Japan, leaving the latter in a security lurch; as the tension rose, President Trump and Mr Kim exchanged mutual insults in proportion to the pressure that they both came under.

dove of peace

dove of peace

Then, suddenly things changed dramatically at the outset of the Winter Olympic Games. Mr Kim sent a delegation led by his photogenic sister to the south and Mr Moon, the South Korean president, accepted an invitation to meet his North Korean counterpart in April. Much to the surprise of the entire world, meanwhile, President Trump declared that he would meet Mr Kim in May or June.

It’s now clear that the pieces of the complex, Korean jigsaw puzzle were put in place as a result of a massive, behind-the-scene diplomatic manoeuvre, something up until now, has been a closely-guarded secret; the main players behind the move are yet to be identified.

When the two leaders met in person in the demilitarized zone on Friday in the historic event, the tension of the two was palpable; when they first shook hands and stepped into each other’s territory to symbolize the new friendship, both displayed an uneasy calm.

Minutes later, however, there was a breakthrough: both Mr Moon and Mr Kim, while walking along a blue bridge, sat down on a bench for an unscheduled meeting: both were relaxed; Mr Moon appeared to be doing the talking and Mr Kim, almost half of Mr Moon’s age, seemed listening to the older Korean while nodding in agreement to the most of the things that the latter said. The rare opportunity appeared to have broken the ice.

Since then, both appeared to be at ease in each other’s company and the warmth was quite visible. There was a range of things that the two leaders promised to work together to iron out that include the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula.

During the personal meetings, Mr Kim admitted that his country was no match when it comes to the prosperity of the south; he has even joked about the standard of the infrastructure of his country. Mr Kim has realized that the only way to address the issues of his people is to build up robust relations with the rest of the world, as the existing sanctions may have already started biting badly.

President Trump, meanwhile, expressed his optimism about achieving permanent peace in the region.

There are still obstacles to overcome, though: when the events took place, for instance, North Koreans could not watch it live on television; it may be because the degree of brainwashing that has been going on for decades, may not be easy to reverse; even the two top military figured that shook hands with Mr Moon were pretty uncomfortable in the summit putting on stony faces.

Throughout the events on Friday, Mr Kim’s sister was seen playing a more pragmatic role, while being at her brother’s disposal; she may have played a key role to encourage her brother to change his modus operandi.

There is a flip side, though; Koreans have been there before. It is the determination of the hard-line conservatives in South Korea, who wants the status quo to remain so regardless of the potential dangers; there were people – a minority, though - carrying placards saying that North Korea should be bombed.

In the past, the achievements of the liberal South Korean leaders have been reversed by their conservative counterparts, when they came to power; the fate of Sunshine Policy pursued by a former liberal South Korean president is a case in point.

Mr Kim does not face this issue, as his position is for life. His counterparts in the south, however, are elected and have limited time to pursue their goals.

On a positive note, if North Korea verifiably gets rid of its nuclear missiles and ballistic missiles, Korean peninsula may change beyond recognition in a matter of years, not decades. The body language of the two leaders clearly showed the mission that they embarked upon is simply irreversible.

- Asian Tribune -

Making History at the 38th Parallel: Korean Leaders Pledged to Turn Armistice to Peace Treaty
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