With the dynamic political climate between the Koreas, US, and China, it’s difficult to keep up with the details. So what do you need to know about the latest news to not embarrass yourself in a political conversation?

1. Some background?

Part of President Moon Jae-In’s political promise was a friendlier relationship with his neighbors to the north. As a noticeably left-leaning president, Moon upheld such promises with a friendly Inter-Korean summit in April this year, when the two leaders–Kim Jong-Un and Moon–met at the Demilitarized Zone for the first time in eleven years. This summit marked the beginning of a shifting political climate on the Korean peninsula; the meeting was the first of three summits, all of which endorsed an easing of tensions and an all-smiles detente between the two nations still technically at war (a ceasefire).  

At this first summit in April, Moon’s approval ratings soared over a jarring 80%, and many South Koreans were surprised–perhaps even touched–to watch the two leaders smiling and holding hands on the same side of the 38th Parallel. In a joint press conference, Kim and Moon made a number of pledges including a promise to work toward the denuclearization of North Korea. The two leaders also agreed to convert the Korean Armistice Agreement, which held the two nations at a ceasefire for over 50 years, to an officially treaty; this pledge would effectively end the 65-year-long ceasefire.

Additionally, a second inter-Korean summit in May discussed Kim’s upcoming meeting with President Trump that would take place in June. The US-North Korea summit took place in June after a period of heightened tensions ensuing from meeting cancellations. Trump and Kim pledged to work toward North Korean denuclearization, peace on the peninsula, and other promises pointing toward eased tensions. Overall, the series of summits within the span of a few months may be opening a new era of shifting relationships, though it is premature to judge to what extent.

2. What happened at this summit?

The September inter-Korean summit was the third and most recent summit between Kim and Moon in 2018. According to CNBC, both leaders signed the September Pyongyang Joint Declaration, in which North Korea pledged for the shut down of the missile-engine testing facility and launchpad at Tongchang-ri.

Pyongyang also said it would shut down its Yongbyon Nuclear site, in which it produced plutonium for its first atomic weapons test, only if the United States follows through with reciprocal actions. But many are still skeptical, as none of these promises are legally binding or official “treaties.” Additionally, denuclearization can still be far off. The ball is now in the US’s court, and North Korea is likely unwilling to eliminate its weapons until the two have a peaceful relationship. On the other hand, the US is unwilling to completely open its arms to peace until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

According to CNN, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “The United States is as committed as ever to continuing to enforce those UN Security Council resolutions. We believe they are central to President Trump’s efforts to convince Chairman Kim that full, final denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is necessary.”

While Kim and Moon are hopeful to commit to an “era of no war,” many questions are left unanswered and many details are left unexplained in the agreements. According to CNN, Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that “The biggest outstanding question still remains — what price the North Koreans want to extract from the United States.”

If anything, the hopeful images of Moon and Kim hugging, holding hands, and visiting the symbolic Baekdu Mountain together produced a sense of progress. The two countries even agreed to make efforts to host the 2032 Summer Olympics together, a statement which Trump tweeted was “very exciting!” Moon’s optimistic address to the North Korean public discussed a newfound peace and unity among North and South Koreans.

However, many analysts and officials are still skeptical regarding the relations between the US and North Korea along with the promises of denuclearization. Now it is Washington’s turn to play its part in moving forward (or backward) in the peace and on the Korean peninsula.

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