It all happened in just a few moments when North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un walked towards South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, at Panmunjom and shook hands. Kim then stepped over the demarcation line between North and South Korea and continued to shake hands with Moon. In a surreal moment, Kim than invited Moon to reciprocate by taking a step into North Korea. The two leaders then stepped into North Korea and shook hands while onlookers applauded. It was a historic moment, one which should be welcomed by the Korean people and the global community.
Kim and Moon then walked into South Korea on a red carpet accompanied by a procession dressed in traditional Korean clothing, attended a sort of pass and review and then a introduction to each other’s cabinets, Kim’s sister being a notable attendee. The Korean leaders then sat down and signed a pledge to end the Korean War which technically never ended. The Panmunjom agreement signed on April 27th states, “there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.” The agreement also includes language about ending all hostile acts between North and South Korea, cooperating on humanitarian issues, and transitioning the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into a peace zone. Overall, the signed agreement includes a lot of positive language and represents a bold step towards peace.
However, it remains to be seen how much follow through will take place. A similar agreement was hashed out between the KCIA director, Lee Hu Rak, with Kim Family Regime cadre members in Pyongyang in May of 1972, but nothing ever came of the agreement. In 1992, North and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula which was obviously not honored by North Korea. Then in 2007 at the inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang, North and South Korea reached an agreement about moving forward towards peace and prosperity but like past agreements, this was nothing but hot air that the North had little intention of living up to. Whether the pledge made by the Korean leaders in Panmunjom this month means anything remains to be seen.
The reunification of the Korean peninsula, even if it comes without either party resorting to military force, will be a long, frustrating, and costly enterprise, one which will require bold leadership and steady hands throughout.