The Irrawaddy

In the Driver’s Seat: Seoul’s Peace Initiative Pays Off

A North Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 18, 2018. Picture taken on April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC138239A3A0

As Myanmar ushers in a New Year with golden padauk in bloom, Korea is full of cherry blossoms signaling that spring has arrived. This time of year is one of the most beautiful and flowery seasons in Seoul. But this year is particularly special. A historic inter-Korean summit is taking place on April 27. This is the third such summit in history, with the most recent taking place 11 years ago in 2007. It is significant in many ways and it bears resemblance to Myanmar’s noble endeavors for peace as well.

Recent developments in the Korean peninsula are remarkable. Just a year ago, tensions were high, to the point that there was speculation about another Korean war.

Immediately after assuming office last May, the government of the Republic of Korea under the new leadership of President Moon Jae-in undertook a peace initiative. The government did its utmost to ease tension and create an atmosphere of peace on the peninsula. At the center was the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, where South and North Korean athletes marched together at the opening ceremony under the same flag, symbolizing a unified Korea. The two Koreas formed a unified women’s ice hockey team, which touched the hearts and minds of the people across the world. It was indeed an exhibition of the unique power of sports. In a sense, it also resonates with the “collective strength and united endeavor” echoed by the Myanmar government in its quest for greater unity in the Union.

The Korean government’s peace effort is anchored in its unswerving conviction that there cannot be another war on the peninsula and that the Korean people should be the architects of its destiny. The upcoming inter-Korean summit will be held at Panmunjeom located within the demilitarized zone. The selection of venue is quite meaningful as Panmunjeom symbolizes the fact that Korea remains divided and it is still technically at war. This cross-border meeting will be a culmination of the Korean government’s fearless efforts to open a new chapter for peace and stability on the peninsula. It will mark a significant turning point for building trust between the two Koreas. Likewise, for Myanmar’s peace process, confidence building among ethnic minority groups is essential for the success of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference.

Seoul has also taken painstaking efforts to bring key partners on board. The inter-Korean summit will be followed by a summit between Washington and Pyongyang. We hope that it will mark another meaningful step toward the establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula. Moreover, it could provide an unprecedented opportunity for denuclearization of the peninsula. In this regard, recent high-level communications among the six parties, including the United States, China, Japan and Russia, are encouraging. To resolve the nuclear conundrum on the Korean peninsula, we need strong support from the international community as a whole. For Myanmar, international support is also important for its peace process, especially as it commemorates its 70th year of independence.

We sincerely hope that Korea’s tireless efforts to realize permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and to improve inter-Korean relations will bear fruit in the near future. A denuclearized North Korea will lead to peace and prosperity not only on the Korean Peninsula but throughout the region at large. In turn, it will be a milestone event for the international non-proliferation regime as well. This is why the international community should encourage and support the upcoming inter-Korean summit.

Mr. Lee Sang-hwa is the South Korean Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Myanmar.