North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a landmark summit Friday, but the celebrated joint statement that followed sounded eerily familiar to past statements.
Friday’s summit was Kim’s first inter-Korean summit since he took power after the death of his father more than six years ago. However, it was the third summit overall. Former South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun met with Kim Jong Il in 2000 and 2007, respectively.
Kim and Moon made a commitment Friday to work toward a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons through phased disarmament, eliciting a positive response from the international community.
The two Korean leaders also called for an end to the Korean War, the cessation of hostilities, the reunification of families separated by the war, increased bilateral cooperation, and frequent exchanges. While significant, much of what is being said has been said before.
Experts were quick to make note of this on Twitter.
The more I read today’s inter-Korean statement and reread the 1972 Joint Communique, 1992 Basic Agremeent, and 2000 and 2007 summit joint statements, the more I feel we are in Groundhog Day again.
— Bruce Klingner (@BruceKlingner) April 27, 2018
North Korea agreed to non-aggression statement in 1992 and 2007, then abrogated them, along with armistice, in May 2009 and again in May 2013. Much of today’s language seems lifted from previous agreements. Can Moon and Kim be penalized for plagiarism?
— Bruce Klingner (@BruceKlingner) April 27, 2018
“South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula,” the joint statement produced Friday read. Is Kim sincere? Perhaps, but it is worth noting that his father made similar assurances over a decade ago.
“The South and the North will jointly endeavor to … resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula,” a 2007 joint statement explained. Over the last decade, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, each more powerful than the last. The most recent test, conducted on September 3, 2017, involved a staged thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb) with an explosive yield far greater than anything the regime has previously tested.
Ending the Korean War:
Like denuclearization, Friday was not the first time the two Koreas have tried to end the war.
“There will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim and Moon said in their joint statement. “South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Bringing an end to the current unactual state of armistice and establishing a robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is a historical mission that must not be delayed any further.” Both sides pointed to a need for quadrilateral talks with the U.S. and China on this issue.
“The South and the North oppose any form of war on the Korean Peninsula and firmly comply with the obligations of non-aggression,” the 2007 statement explained. “The South and the North share the wish to terminate the existing armistice regime and to build a permanent peace regime, and cooperate to pursue issues related to declaring the end of the Korean War by holding on the Korean Peninsula, a Three or Four party summit of directly-related sides.”
The world also saw a certain degree of rhetorical repetition in the calls for the cessation of hostilities in Korea.
“South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all the hostile acts against each other in every domain,” the two Korean leaders stated Friday.
“The South and the North will closely cooperate in order to terminate military hostilities, ease tension and ensure peace on the Korean peninsula,” the joint statement written over a decade ago explained. Within a period of only a few years, North Korea was sinking South Korean ships and shelling southern islands in attacks that killed a total of fifty people.
Reuniting Families Separated By War:
As was the case at both the 2000 and 2007 summits, Kim and Moon also pushed for the reunification of families separated by war.
“South and North Korea agreed to proceed with reunion program for the separated families,” Friday’s statement read, setting a date for August 15. “The South and the North expand the reunion of separated families and relatives,” the 2007 statement explained, adding that both sides agree to “routinely implement the reunion of separated families and relatives.”
“The South and the North have agreed to promptly resolve humanitarian issues such as exchange visits by separated family members and relatives,” a 2000 statement said, also setting the date for the proposed exchanges on August 15. North and South Korea have yet to make solid progress on resolving the nuclear issue or ending the Korean War. Yet, there have been some successes when it comes to reuniting family members.
At all three summits, both sides also called for improved diplomatic ties, economic cooperation, and bilateral exchanges.
“South and North Korea agreed to actively implement the projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration, in order to promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation,” the two Korean leaders declared Friday, further stating, “As a first step, the two sides agreed to adopt practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the custom transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilization.”
“The South and the North will complete the first phase construction of the Kaesong Industrial Complex as early as possible, and launch the second phase development, and begin railway cargo transportation linking Moonsan and Bongdong, and promptly undertake institutional measures to resolve problems including passage of people, communications and customs clearance,” the two sides stated in 2007, further explaining, “The South and the North will discuss and undertake improvement of Kaesong-Shineuiju railway and Kaesong-Pyongyang highway for joint use.”
The most recent joint statement makes a limited case for economic cooperation given the strict economic sanctions that are currently targeting North Korea.
“The South and the North have agreed to consolidate mutual trust by promoting balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation,” the 2000 joint statement read.
“South and North Korea agreed to encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity between South and North,” Friday’s statement read, highlighting the need for North and South Korea to field joint teams at international sporting events.
“The South and the North will develop exchanges and cooperation in the fields of history, linguistics, education, science and technology, culture and arts, and sports in order to cherish the long history and proud culture of the Korean people,” the 2007 statement said, noting that both sides could send joint cheer squads to international events.
The joint statement drafted in 2000 encouraged North and South Korea to stimulate “cooperation and exchanges in civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and all other fields.”
In a number of ways, Friday’s statement is clearly reminiscent of past joint statements produced at inter-Korean summits that ultimately failed to achieve their long-term goals, specifically permanent peace and denuclearization.
Noticeable differences between Friday’s summit and its predecessors include Kim’s decision to visit South Korea for the summit and talk of turning the demilitarized zone into a peace zone. Plans for the establishment of a maritime peace zone were included in previous joint statements.
The players are different this time around, but much of what is being said is still very similar to what was said before. That is not to say that things will not pan out in a positive way, but the world has been down this road before.
Maybe the third time’s the charm.
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