North and South Korea have agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit on April 27.
The two countries passed a joint communique on March 29 at Panmunjeom that agrees on the schedule and way ahead for preparation of the summit.
Comprised of three articles, the communique states that North and South Korea will hold their summit at the House of Peace, which is located in the southern side the border in Panmunjeom.
As for preparation, it agrees to hold a working level discussion on protocol, escort, and media coverage on April 4. It also sets out plans for a working level discussion on communication, which mainly concerns the issue of establishing a hotline between the two states, the date and location of which are to be determined later.
Other practical issues that may arise during the course of preparation will be discussed in writing.
North and South Korea will be meeting for the first time in 11 years. A third of its kind, the summit follows the first summit between the two Koreas which took place in June 2000 between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, and the second in October 2007 between Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il.
At a post-conference briefing held at the House of Freedom in Panmunjeom, Cho Myung-kyun, South Korea’s Minister of Unification and representative at the talks reconfirmed that the summit will address the issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and peaceful settlement of North-South relations.
Cho said that “both parties have made sufficient exchanges concerning the agenda of the summit,” adding that “a follow-up session may commence in April to further discuss the agenda if necessary.”
Lee Seon-kwon, the head of the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea and representative, said that “all issues brought up between North and South will be put up as agenda,” adding that “what the people wants is what we want as agenda.”
This comes at a time when China and North Korea surprised both the United States and South Korea when they announced on March 28 that they held a summit behind closed doors.
Experts argue that Kim is reaching out to China to support him in the upcoming North-South summit as well as in his meeting with the United States.
Moon Sung-muk, director of unification strategy at the National Strategy Institute, said that the China-North Korea summit was a result of “North Korea needing Chinese support in the upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States, and China wanting to hold influence over North Korea,” adding that “North Korea may also hold a summit with Russia along the context to gain advantage.”
In that regard, experts speculate that North Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho plans to visit Moscow next month to talk about a possible summit between North Korea and Russia.
South Korea is expecting Kim’s active participation in the inter-Korean summit, as South Korea’s special envoy to North Korea made an assessment that Kim Jong-un is “honest and bold.”
In fact, Kim reportedly told the special envoy on March 5 that “there is no need for nuclear weapons as long as the safety of our regime is guaranteed,” a daring statement that went beyond South Korea’s expectations.
When meeting with China’s Xi Jinping, Kim showed confidence in the future of North-South relations saying that “the situation in the Korean peninsula is off to better tides,” adding that “following the legacy of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jeong-il to concentrate on denuclearization of the Peninsula has not changed in our part.”
The United States reacted positively to the North-China summit, although with certain level of wariness.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on March 28 that Kim might “do what is right for his people and for humanity,” but emphasized his will to maintain “maximum sanctions and pressure.”
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders told reporters that while Kim’s visit to China is a “positive sign,” the United States will be “cautiously optimistic.”
Experts interpret U.S. reactions as a demonstration of will not to repeat the failures that it has experienced in past negotiations with North Korea. The Geneva Agreement in 1994, Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks on September 19, 2005, and the “Leap Day” Agreement in 2012 are just some of the results of past U.S.-DPRK negotiations which later turned out to be failed attempts for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
They also argue that this is a message directed at China not to use its meeting with Kim Jong-un as an opportunity to retreat from sanctions on North Korea.
As U.S.-North Korea summit is expected to be held in late May, the China-Japan-Korea Trilateral Summit is scheduled to be held in Tokyo beforehand. These series of summits, if properly used, may pave way for mutual understanding and effort for a peaceful settlement of North-South relations as well as bring better stability to East Asia.