Guest Column

Korean Reconciliation: Three Lessons for Myanmar’s Leaders

By Joe Kumbun 24 September 2018

South Korean president Moon Jae-in landed on North Korean soil on Sept. 18 for a historical meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Moon is the third president to visit North Korea following Kim Dae Jung in 2000 and Roh Moo Hyun in 2007.

September’s Moon-Kim summit marked the third of its kind and was the fifth inter-Korean summit ever held. Previous meetings between the two current presidents took place earlier this year on April 27 and May 26 at the inter-Korean border.

The concerted efforts of the two leaders are praiseworthy, having met three times in such a short space of time since Moon took office in May 2017.

The most recent meeting, held in Pyongyang, was devoted to discussing denuclearization and the stability of the Korean Peninsula through creating a system of perpetual peace. The summit reached an unprecedented agreement for denuclearization: the permanent dismantling of a missile engine test site at Tongchang-ri.

There are three significant lessons Myanmar’s leaders should learn from the two Korean leaders.

The first lesson is drawn from their willingness and commitment to denuclearization and peace. Both Moon and Kim appear to have realized that no one is responsible for denuclearization and peace in the Korean Peninsula except themselves, thus they endeavored for these meetings to be held.

The second lesson is drawn from their sending of special envoys from each state to the other in an effort to break the ice. Prior to Moon-Kim summit in Pyongyang, both leaders sent special envoys respectively to establish a rapport and smooth relations for their summit.

“The special envoy delegation’s visit turned out really well. The results were much better than I’d expected,” said Moon after sending a special delegation to the North in early September.

The third lesson comes from the face-to-face meeting, which took place on North Korean soil. Moon paid a historic visit to his counterpart’s land as a sign of his commitment to peace. After three rounds of meetings, Kim also spoke about the possibility of a visit to Seoul in the very near future.

Due to concerted efforts on both sides, the North Korean leader, Kim, appears to have intentions for a complete denuclearization within three years—before Trump’s four-year presidency ends in January 2021. As well as denuclearization, the two Korean leaders even agreed to seek the rights to co-host the 2032 Olympics.

Myanmar’s civil war—an internal conflict and having more marginal effects than nuclear weapons—should have been tamed earlier and solved more quickly through efforts by leaders from all parties. Instead, Myanmar’s peace process has become a prolonged affair and has achieved only deadlock rather than peace.

The recent government’s Union Peace Commission (UPC) meeting with members of the Northern Alliance—including the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—on Sept. 5 in Kunming, China, was a positive step for furthering efforts in ending the ongoing clashes.

Regrettably, a planned meeting on the same day between the UPC and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) was canceled due to weaknesses in preparations for the event. This followed meetings in February and August between a delegation of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) led by Lt-Gen Tun Tun Naung and KIO representatives led by Gen. N’Ban La, at which no results were achieved due to the Tatmadaw’s coercion and preconditions for further talks.

In order to expedite the peace process in Myanmar, it is essential for leaders from both sides—both the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups—to pursue peace by putting forth a strong commitment to peace, by sending special delegations, by visiting each other’s areas and by meeting each other without preconditions.

As they can either be instrumental in advancing the peace process or detrimental in sabotaging the entire peace effort, Myanmar leaders, especially leaders from the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups, should thus learn lessons from the leaders of North and South Korea.

As Kim said during a press conference proceeding the recent Moon-Kim meeting in Pyongyang: “We agreed to make active efforts to turn the Korean peninsula into the land of peace without nuclear weapons or nuclear threats,” Myanmar’s citizens believe that if both the Tatmadaw generals and ethnic leaders have strong commitments to peace, they can surely turn this war zone to a land of peace without any fighting.

Joe Kumbun is the pseudonym of a Kachin State-based analyst.