Today marks the first anniversary when South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a historical summit at Panmunjom. But the celebration event held only by South Korea today presents both dream and reality of the first anniversary. One year ago, the two leaders crossed the military demarcation line, holding each other’s hands and had a private conversation, walking across an old bridge called “Foot Bridge.” Despite the dramatic meeting and much expectation, denuclearization of North Korea seems to be unattainable and relations between two Koreas, and between the U.S. and North Korea are at an impasse.
The biggest reason why the Panmunjom Declaration lost its way in just one year is due to complete insincerity Kim Jong Un has shown towards denuclearization. “Our shared goal is to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons through complete denuclearization," said Kim Jong Un during a joint press conference a year ago. But he has not taken any serious steps toward denuclearization ever since. Dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site was purely symbolic and he turned down the request by the U.S. to share the concept and the goal of denuclearization at the Hanoi summit.
Against much expectation that a new era of peace will be realized on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea are in a stalemate and inter-Korean relations have gone back to the old pattern, where the South unilaterally tries to engage while the North acts in a high-handed manner. A year ago, the North Korean leader appeared to listen attentively to the words of President Moon on the Foot Bridge, but now he is blatantly ignoring the South.
North Korea criticized South Korea Friday by saying it should fulfill the promise of the Declaration without hesitation. It is a brazen act to alienate South Korea from the U.S. when the two countries have different opinions on the scope and speed of inter-Korean economic projects. After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un visited Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease sanctions imposed on the country and form a united front against the U.S.
As the leaders of the two Koreas met three times last year, they climbed Mt. Baekdu together and President Moon made a speech at the 5·1 Stadium in Pyongyang, but Moon made no progress in denuclearizing North Korea. To be sure, we should not give up on our efforts to persuade North Korea into giving up its nuclear ambitions. But restoring relations with Pyongyang in a hurry does not help attaining a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and establishing peace in the region. It has been proven once again during the past year that the only ways to open and denuclearize North Korea are solid South Korea-U.S. relations, sanctions on North Korea and flexible but confident North Korea policies.