Upon the request of the LSE media team, I had a chance to elaborate on my own thoughts regarding the recent Inter-Korea summit meeting on 27 April, and also the role of the US. The series of videos were released on 30 April, and what I said then still seems to be relevant to the forthcoming North Korea-US summit meeting that is about to go ahead on 12 June. Here are the links to the interview clips:
LSE Thinks | Why have the leaders of North and South Korea started negotiations? https://youtu.be/J0eWPeeObZM
LSE Thinks | What has been the role of the US in peace negotiations between North and South Korea? https://youtu.be/8eQqxZ68oCw
Below is a written version of what I have tried to say in this series of video interviews.
- What has brought about this ‘renewed’ enthusiasm for negotiations between the two Koreas and the US?
It is important to understand how these negotiations have historically developed. The popular discourse seems to regard the current negotiation as very new. However, the two Koreas already had two summit meetings, once in 2000 between President Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Jeong-il, the father of the current leader of North Korea, and again in 2007 between President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jeong-il.
While peaceful negotiations were already in place more than a decade ago, the process stopped during the last ten years between 2008 and 2017 when the two successive conservative governments of South Korea were reluctant to promote inter-Korea cooperation and at times hostile towards peaceful engagement.
The candle light revolution in South Korea in 2016 and 2017, praised by the world as the example of democracy, has led to the change of government, led by President Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer turned politician. And, the new South Korean government has been committing to the peaceful engagement with North Korea, and to mediating the relationship between North Korea and the US.
It is also important to highlight the fact that the general population in South Korea has been largely in support of peaceful negotiation with North Korea to resolve the military confrontation. Surveys indicate that a large majority of the South Korean population supported talks with North Korea rather than military resolution. This was despite the missile threats from the north and the development of nuclear programmes. The South Korean government and President Moon Jae-in’s firm position for ‘no war on the peninsular’ was strongly supported by the public opinion.
- What will be the implications of the negotiations for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula?
I think both Koreas are quite serious about the need of producing peaceful co-existence for the survival and development of North Korea. In particular, it is important to understand that the 2018 inter-Korea summit meeting took place within less than a year of South Korean president’s terms of office. And, he has another four years before his presidency comes to an end. There is ample momentum that can build up to produce positive outcomes. Denuclearisation is not just about demobilising North Korea’s nuclear programme. It is also about ending the military confrontation between South and North Koreas, who are technically at war, only suspended by the armistice signed in 1953 between North Korea and the United Nations force led by the US. Ending the war and signing a peace treaty has been the stated aim of both Korean governments, and I think there is a very good chance this is going to happen, now that all regional powers are expected to agree to this transition.
- What will be the implications of the negotiations for the people in the peninsula and the economy of the Korean peninsula?
All regional economies, and by extension the global economy, will definitely gain a lot from the anticipated transition from armistice to peace treaty. At the moment, nearly two million armed soldiers are confronting each other on the peninsular as of now, excluding the US force stationed in South Korea. The regional insecurity and uncertainty will reduce substantially, triggering more investment to arrive in the peninsula. South Korea has been struggling to create a new momentum for economic development, and the opening of the North Korean economy will provide the new avenue of economic growth. North Korea would emerge as an attractive destination for global investors.
It is also not just about the investment. There will be additional resources to be secured by reduced military spending. According to the World Bank data, in 2016, South Korea’s military expenditure amounted to 2.6% of its GDP, higher than the average for the world (2.2%) or for East Asia and the Pacific region (1.7%). This is equivalent to 10.4% of the South Korean central government expenditure (World, 8.1%). We do not have data for North Korea, but the ratio would certainly be much higher. Imagine the reduction of military spending that can be released for investment in social and physical infrastructure.
Obviously, there is much to learn from the neighbouring country, China, and from former East Germany, in terms of how to transform a planned economy into a market economy. The key concern is more about how the North Korean economic reform would proceed without widening social discrimination, economic injustice and regional inequalities. Overcoming the political and ideological differences is another big challenge. A peace treaty would provide time and space for this challenging process to be initiated.