It’s been exactly one year since South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jon Un had a summit meeting in Pyongyang and signed the September 19 Joint Declaration. “We will strive to make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace free of nuclear weapons and nuclear threat,” said the North Korean leader expressing a strong determination for denuclearization and promising a visit to Seoul by the end of the year. Meanwhile, President Moon said in front of 150,000 Pyongyang citizens, “Let’s remove the hostility of the past 70 years and take a big step forward for peace.” The expectation for peace on the peninsula grew based on the two national leaders’ words, yet the promise for denuclearization has become lost and the bilateral relations have hardened. A separately held event for September 19 celebration and silence of the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae reveal the state of the relations between the two Koreas.
There has been no actual progress in five areas – denuclearization, military, economy, separated families, and culture and sports – that the two leaders agreed on. Permanent closure of the Tongchang-ri missile launch site hasn’t been carried out by North Korea, let alone denuclearization. The North also has been refusing to participate in meetings with the Korean Red Cross on the restoration of the Mount Kumgang family reunion center and video reunions. Some follow-up measures have been taken with regards to the annexed agreement on military agreement, such as removal of guard posts at the Demilitarized Zone and demilitarization of the Joint Security Area. However, North Korea has launched 10 missiles targeting the South Korean territory in full violation of the agreement on suspension of all hostile actions. On the other hand, South Korea’s security posture has weakened as aerial reconnaissance to prevent the North’s sudden attacks is now limited as areas within 10 to 40 kilometers from the Military Demarcation Line have been set as prohibited airspace.
The declarations between the two Koreas on June 15, 2000, October 4, 2007, April 27, 2018, and September 19, 2019, have remained at simply being declarations because North Korea has not proven its truthful determination for denuclearization. “The two leaders have declared a practical end of the war, overcoming the Korean armistice that has lasted for 65 years,” said Cheong Wa Dae a year ago. However, it has become clear that better relations between the two Koreas cannot be a bypass for the Korean Peninsula’s peace unless there’s meaningful progress on denuclearization. The South Korean government should consistently adhere to the denuclearization principles, rather than being impatient to make political achievements before the end of the current president’s term. Improvement of the bilateral relations that will not be reversed is only possible then.