20 July 2019

Koreas kiss and make up, for now

KONFRFONTASI - Can an agreement between North Korea and South Korea serve to dampen the tensions which have been threatening to rekindle the flames of war on the Korean Peninsula? Will the accord be construed as a first step towards a lasting peace? These are but a few of the questions raised about the deal between Pyongyang and Seoul.    

The North has "expressed regret" over a recent mine blast which injured two South Korean soldiers and the South has agreed to halt loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts re-launched in retaliation to the mine incident.

According to a joint statement announced less than an hour into Tuesday (15:55 GMT on Monday), South Korea said it would stop the loud speaker broadcast at noon of the following day and the North would end a "semi-state of war" that was called last week by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The negotiations were launched following a military stand-off sparked by a rare cross border artillery exchange last week. South Korea retaliated to North Korea’s alleged mortar fire, which Pyongyang claimed was provoked by the re-launching of Seoul’s physiological warfare program.      

Earlier in the month, South Korea restarted its propaganda warfare against the North after an 11-year-long hiatus. Seoul made the decision blaming Pyongyang for the landmine explosion which maimed the South Korean soldiers who were patrolling the inter-Korean demilitarized zone on August 4.

A South Korean soldier takes down a battery of propaganda loudspeakers on the border with North Korea on 16 June 2004 in Paju, South Korea. (Getty images)

The deal was "warmly welcomed" by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who voiced hopes that it would “serve as a mechanism to effectively manage any problems that may arise on the Korean peninsula." "As secretary-general, I stand ready to support inter-Korean cooperation.”

A South Korean soldier walks by barricades on the road leading to North Korea’s Kaesong joint industrial complex at a military checkpoint in the border city of Paju on August 21, 2015 (AFP)

However, some analysts are slightly more skeptical on how the pact would hold with Jeung Young-Tae, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, saying “Past inter-Korea agreements at a time like this have tended to be extremely ambiguous."

"But in the world of diplomatic language, this is a clear apology, with the object of the regret -- the landmine blasts that maimed the soldiers -- clearly stated," Jeung said.

Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, noted that "As with all such agreements, the devil is in the details," "But it clearly represents a turnaround for the current crisis and shifts the pendulum towards dialogue."

Professor David Kang of the University of Southern California's Korean Studies Institute is one of the scholars who believes the agreement is just another respite in the ongoing animosity between the Koreas. "I see this is as yet another of the small cycles of the skirmishes that we see between North and South Korea that just happens in depressing regularity."

The South Korean president's national security adviser, Kim Kwan-Jin (R), and Unification Minister Hong Yong-Pyo (2nd R) shaking hands with the North Korean military's top political officer Hwang Pyong-So (L) and North Korean top official in charge of South Korea affairs, Kim Yang-Gon (2nd L), during their last meeting after days of intensive high-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on August 25, 2015. (AFP)

In 1950, South Korea declared independence, prompting an invasion from the North that led to the Korean War, which saw nearly one million South Koreans and over 1.5 million North Koreans lose their life before an armistice stopped the carnage in 1953. During the war – which technically never ended --the United Nations forces led by the US fought for the South, and China and the Soviet Union fought for the North.

"I hope that from now on, (both sides) sincerely implement the agreement and build trust through dialogue and cooperation in order to build new inter-Korean ties that meet the people's expectations," said South Korea's lead negotiator, National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-Jin, after the talks.[ptv]

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