As 2021 became 2022, the leaders of both North and South Korea gave speeches that are giving observers hope that a path towards peace and perhaps even reconciliation may soon be achieved.
‘The government will pursue normalisation of inter-Korean relations and an irreversible path to peace until the end. I hope efforts for dialogue will continue in the next administration too,’ South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in his final New Year’s address before his five-year term comes to an end in May.
In North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un’s new year speech, given at the end of the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), had less direct talk of peace than his democratically elected counterpart, but a concentration on economic revitalisation and rural development, not war and nuclear weaponry, gave hope also.
The North Korean leader says his country’s main goals for 2022 will be jump-starting their struggling economy and improving people’s quality of life as the country faces a ‘great life-and-death struggle.’
The Korean peninsula was torn in half when US and South Korean Forces fought Chinese, Russian and North Korean forces from 1950-1953. The war ended with the signing of an armistice, but no formal treaty ending hostilities was ever signed and many note that the two countries are still technically at war.
Also still technically at war in the Korean Peninsula are combatants US and China, and most believe both parties would have to play a significant role in any peace agreement.
A number of previous formal attempts have been made to reconcile North and South Korea.
The first talks were conducted in 2000 between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader. The pair agreed on a peace declaration that encouraged cooperation.
At the second inter-Korean summit in 2007 Kim Jong Il and then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun reached a series of agreements, including a call to replace the armistice with a permanent peace deal, but that has yet to come to pass.
President Moon held multiple summits with Kim, including one in Pyongyang, during 2018 and 2019, but the peace process often faltered amid disagreements over demands that the North surrender its arsenal of nuclear weapons. North Korean then called for Washington and Seoul to ease sanctions and drop other ‘hostile policies.’
Now in this new year a fresh thawing seems to be underway, with hope that, behind the scenes, China, the US, North and South Korea are creating a platform from which a long lasting and ratified peace may be built.