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Panmunjeom Declaration resembles 2007 inter-Korean declaration, made progress on denuclearization issue

To better understand the joint Panmunjeom Declaration signed at a historic inter-Korean summit last week, it is helpful to look into the declaration of the 2007 summit, which many say bears a striking resemblance to the latest joint statement.

Experts are divided over whether the declaration signed on April 27 at the two Koreas’ third summit showed any progress in tackling the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But many seem to agree that the Panmunjeom Declaration inherits or recycles many parts of the 2007 declaration in terms of pledges to end the Korean War, build a peace regime and expand cross-border exchanges. 

A major difference this time is the stipulation of “complete denuclearization” in the declaration, despite criticisms that it, lacking specific details, did not go beyond showing the two Koreas’ vague commitment to denuclearization.

“The declaration is clearly progress from past declarations. There was a mention of denuclearization in the statement. Before the summit, Kim Jong-un announced that the country would shut down a major nuclear site,” said Suh Bo-hyuk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

In the Panmunjeom Declaration, the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and also “agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In the 2007 declaration signed by President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the two Koreas said, “With regard to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, the South and the North have agreed to work together to implement smoothly the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement and the February 13, 2007 Agreement achieved at the Six-Party Talks.”

The 2007 summit came as the members of six-party denuclearization talks -- the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan, Russia -- were working to implement a framework deal they reached in September 2005 under which Pyongyang was to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and energy aid, as well as normalization of its relations with the US and Japan. 

Soon after the two leaders signed the agreement, the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration came into power and its North Korean policy shifted to a tougher line. The six-party talks, which began in 2003, collapsed in 2008, largely because North Korea refused to allow inspectors to verify that it had shut down its nuclear program.

North Korea then continued to conduct a series of nuclear and missile tests until its leader extended a rare olive branch in his New Year’s speech, expressing his willingness to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and improve inter-Korean relations.

“They both stressed ‘lost 11 years.’ The declaration reflects the two leaders’ perception that they virtually enter the process of the two Koreas’ reunification by implementing what has already been agreed in the 2007 declaration,” Suh said.

The 2007 declaration also stipulated the two Koreas’ commitment to “recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime” and “to work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the Peninsula and declare an end to the war.”

Similarly, in the Panmunjeom Declaration, the two Koreas said that they will “actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Bringing an end to the current unnatural state of armistice and establishing a robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is a historical mission that must not be delayed any further.”

The similar language used in the Panmunjeom Declaration reflects Moon and Kim’s determination to prioritize inter-Korean relations amid complex dynamics involving different stakeholders on the Korean Peninsula, and take a lead in navigating ways to establish a permanent peace regime, another expert said.

“The declaration highlights that the two Koreas will put inter-Korean relations at the center of their effort to tackle the nuclear standoff without being swayed by the US-North Korea relations,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute.

The 2018 declaration states that South and North Korea will “actively implement the projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration” to promote the countries’ co-prosperity.

In the 2007 declaration, the two Koreas agreed to “promote economic cooperation, including investments, pushing forward with the building of infrastructure and the development of natural resources.” 

They also agreed to “establish a special economic zone, utilization of Haeju harbor, passage of civilian vessels via direct routes in Haeju and the joint use of the Han River estuary,” and “open freight rail services between Munsan and Bongdong” and “discuss “epairs of the Gaeseong-Sinuiju railroad and the Gaeseong-Pyongyang expressway for their joint use.”

Apparently mindful of international sanctions against North Korea, the two Koreas did not make any more specific pledges than agreeing to “adopt practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilization” as their “first step" this time.

“The 2018 declaration includes what has been already agreed during the inter-Korean summit in 2007. It means that the two leaders will push to implement many of the agreements that were reached in 2007 but could not be carried out,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Department of Unification Strategy Studies at the Sejong Institute.

“Their agreement to set up a joint liaison office at Kaesong signals their willingness to implement the agreements quickly by closely discussing and adjusting how to do so,” he said.

In the April 27 joint declaration, the two Koreas agreed to set up a joint permanent liaison office where officials from both sides would be present in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

The two Koreas’ pledge to restore joint railway lines as their “first step” shows their willingness to quicken the process of implementing joint economic projects, said Kim Il-han, a professor at Dongguk University.

“I believe that a promise to build such an infrastructure indicates their willingness to quickly push for economic cooperation -- such as expanding economic zones and joint investment projects,” he said.

By Ock Hyun-ju (