Is North Korea sincere in its commitment to complete denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula?

Gyu Lee

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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The summit meeting between President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and Chairman Kim Jong-un of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea produced tangible progress on three fronts.

Those are: 1) the development of inter-Korean relations in a sustainable manner, 2) the alleviation of military tension, and 3) the denuclearisation and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

The agreements of the two leaders were written into the “Panmunjeom Declaration” issued at the summit. When it comes to denuclearisation, the two leaders “confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula”.

It is highly noteworthy because it is the first time for the leaders of the South and the North to make a public announcement of their agreement at an inter-Korean summit. Chairman Kim's participation in the ceremony, standing in front of audiences of the world, indicates North Korea's seriousness about its pledges. This is why the Korean Government thinks the groundwork for the success of the North Korea-US summit was laid at the inter-Korean summit.

However, North Korea's commitment to denuclearisation leaves some critics unconvinced because they believe that the country will not simply abandon its decades-long strife for nuclear power. Furthermore, the country has a history of breaking its commitment to denuclearisation.

Yet, I dare say that this scepticism may subside if they fully understood South Korea's favourable policy towards North Korea, and President Moon and his Government's consistent and sincere efforts to carry it out, as well as Chairman Kim's big ambition of making North Korea an economically powerful country, and North Korea's high-quality human resources and abundant natural resources enabling his aspiration to come true.

Political Motive for Denuclearisation

First of all, South Korea's vision towards North Korea can shortly be referred to as “peaceful co-existence politically” and “co-prosperity economically” between the two Koreas. Peaceful co-existence is favourable toward North Korea because it entails what is called the policy of “3 NOs”. This means that South Korea has: 1) no desire for North Korea's collapse, 2) no quest for unification by absorption, and 3) no quest for unification through artificial means. These facets have been adopted under the vision of peaceful co-existence between the two nations.

Economic Motive for Denuclearisation

The most appealing South Korean policy in which Chairman Kim has a keen interest, I think, may be the “establishment of a new economic community on the Korean Peninsula”. This falls under the vision of “co-prosperity”. Its purpose is to build a single market on the Korean Peninsula, to create new growth engines.

In addition, South Korea plans to implement the “New Northern Policy” and “New Southern Policy”. The New Northern Policy aims to fortify economic ties with countries that are mostly located to the north, such as North Korea, Russia, and Eurasian countries. The New Southern Policy is similar in its quest as it endeavours to strengthen economic ties with countries mostly located to the south, such as the US, and member countries of ASEAN and so on.

In this vein, South Korea's policy considers carefully geopolitical strategies such as Russia's New Eastern Policy and China's One Belt and One Road Initiative. This may later be interlocked on the Korean Peninsula for reciprocally mutual benefit.

To actualise the above policies, South Korea's Government will draw a “New Economic Map” on its peninsula by establishing three economic belts. These belts are the East Economic Belt, the Yellow Sea (West) Economic Belt, and the DMZ belt, not to mention including North Korea's territory.

Owing to this policy, the two Koreas and neighbouring countries continue to increase interdependence through economic cooperation, thereby advancing peace and prosperity across north-east Asia and beyond. In the end, the realisation of a “New Economic Community on the Korean Peninsula” and the “New Northern and Southern Policy” would facilitate a virtuous cycle between co-prosperity and peace.

Therefore, this policy must have been one of the most compelling motives for Chairman Kim to change his course from acquiring nuclear state to achieving economic power by denuclearisation, in consideration of his big ambition. I will explain to readers in the latter half this humble view.

President Moon's Consistent and Sincere Drive

Secondly, what has led the North Korean leader to change his course to uphold his denuclearisation commitment must have been my President Moon and his Government's consistent and sincere drive to its policy's implementation. The South Korean Government has been sending dialogue signals to the North while at the same time participating in pressure and sanctions against North Korea.

At every international stage on which President Moon Jae-in has appeared he has repeated the call for peaceful co-existence and co-prosperity. For example, through the address named “Berlin Initiative” delivered at the Korber Foundation and the address at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Moon has revealed his North Korea policy and urged the North to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the resumption of dialogue and contacts expressing inter-Korean summit.

Needless to say, he expressed his willingness for engagement with the North on every national occasion, too. At last, as all know, North Korea responded to South Korea's consistent request for dialogue by attending the Winter Olympics, which served as a momentum for an inter-Korean Summit and the prospective US-North Korea summit on June 12th.

I add that Chairman Kim must have had a good impression of South Korea's policy towards North Korea and evaluated it as sincere, because President Moon had conceived the policy prior to his presidency and already reflected it in the “October 4 Declaration” issued at the summit between the deceased South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and the current chairman's father in 2007.

This is why the two leaders have recently agreed to actively implement the projects agreed at the declaration in 2007. President Moon's consistent and sincere attitude must have made the North Korean leader trust in his vision of “co-existence and co-prosperity and its consequent polices”.

North Korea's Potential for High Economic Growth

Thirdly, critics must not fail to notice that North Korea has highly encouraging fundamentals for its rapid economic growth, which are its high-quality industrial manpower, cutting edge ICT, lowest level of illiteracy, national character of diligence, and especially rich mineral resources, etc. With some ample foreign capital, North Korea has great potential to be an economically powerful country.

Chairman Kim's Personal Character and his Ambition

On the other hand, it may be argued that a closed nation under a one-man leadership system like the North cannot adopt an open-door policy which is necessary for economic cooperation and introduction of foreign capital, because it will hurt the regime's stability. However, there are several politically stable countries with their economy fast growing, even under one-man leadership or one political party-governed system, in this world. Hence, he must have gained every confidence to maintain his regime during his seven years of rule in North Korea despite the adoption of an open-door policy.

Furthermore, it must also be remembered that Chairman Kim's educational background is different from that of his father's and grandfather's, who led the nation for a combination of two generations (1948 to 2011). A difference, in essence, is that his educational background was based in Switzerland, which exposed him to the western lifestyle. That exposure gives rise to the possibility of him unwittingly being ingrained with notions of economic reforms, open-door policy, and other western sensibilities.

Together with his open-minded personality and his country's equipped fundamentals required for speedy economic growth, as well as South Korea's favourable policy towards North Korea and President Moon's consistent and trustworthy commitment to its implementation, Chairman Kim must have harboured a great ambition to make North Korea an economically developed country through the economic cooperation between the two Koreas and with the help of foreign capital.

Therefore, it follows that he has been grappling with the international sanctions and pressure which are a huge barrier to the economic cooperation between the two Koreas and the introduction of foreign capital. It is reasoned that he keenly feels there is no way to draw his big picture under the situation that North Korea holds nuclear arsenals.

Likewise, he may also think that there is no way to protect his regime and country from military threat from the outside without its nuclear weapons and missiles. In fact, Chairman Kim has said, “As long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove the security threat against North Korea, there is no need for the North to be a nuclear state and denuclearisation can be realised.” Here, ways may be found to let the North realise its commitments to denuclearisation.

Chairman Kim's Sincerity

In addition to what I have mentioned so far, there are several instances that give evidence of Chairman Kim's sincerity. I have previously highlighted the salient instance in which he publicly appeared before the Korean public as well as before the international community to pronounce the “Panmunjeom Declaration”.

Adding to this is the fact that his country's State media saturated the news with every scene and detail pertaining to the inter-Korean summit. It did so with prominent headlines in order that the North Korean general public would become well-informed of each aspect of this declaration, and particularly of its leader's commitment to denuclearisation. This is extraordinary, considering the fact that following the occurrences of the two previous inter-Korean summits, North Korea did not make this type of public announcement and even defaulted on its promise of denuclearsation.

Another example is the noteworthy fact that North Korea has decided to close down its nuclear test sites and stop further nuclear tests and missile launches. Above all is that North Korea's central committee meeting (the politburo meeting) adopted a new policy of concentrating on economic development in lieu of the dual policy of nuclear and economic development.

In conclusion, Kim Jong-un truly aspires to economically advance his country. His commitment to denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula is considered genuine only if his regime's security will be guaranteed and all military threats towards North Korea will be eliminated.

An Earnest and Humble Request

The Republic of Korea and Jamaica share the common value of promoting peace throughout the world, which is one of the directives that Jamaica has chosen within its foreign policy. Hence, peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula are meaningful to Jamaica, even though our two countries are geographically far apart.

The success of the two summits is expected to bring about denuclearisation. This, in turn, is anticipated to yield an alleviation of security uncertainty, the establishment of permanent peace, and the reduction in armament. From this, there will be more engagement in friendly and cooperative projects among our allies, including Jamaica.

For these reasons and more, I will greatly appreciate the invaluable support of the Jamaican people, along with their earnest prayers, for the inter-Korean summit as well as for the success of the US-North Korea summit to be held on June 12th.

— Young Gyu Lee is the head of mission (Charge d'affaires) for the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Jamaica

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