2019 forecast: inter-Korean relations on track

Despite the hype, UN sanctions and US priorities will stymie further progress in relations.

In an unexpected turn of events, 2018 saw some of the most significant developments in the relationship between North and South Korea since the Sunshine Policy. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un was able to achieve an extraordinary diplomatic windfall for his regime as he met with both South Korean President Moon Jae-In and US President Donald Trump. Yet as the year of summitry winds down, questions linger as to the sustainability of future dialogue and the sincerity of Kim’s diplomatic pronouncements going into the new year.

Among a rush of unprecedented “firsts”, including the first entry of a North Korean leader into South Korean territory since the Korean War, Moon and Kim signed the Panmunjom Declaration. The declaration called for the end of long standing military activities along the border region, the reunification of Korea, denuclearisation, and an agreement to work together to connect and modernise their two countries’ railways.

Onthe issue of denuclearisation, North Korea has not conducted a missile test since November 28, 2017, a period of almost 400 days and the longest stretch without a missile test since the 2009-2012 hiatus. Yet, aside from the seemingly cheerful atmosphere surrounding Kim and Moon’s many encounters, this appears to be the only substantive step towards a lasting peace observed in the wake of summitry.

While a preliminary assessment of the North’s railroads was recently completed and a symbolic ground breaking ceremony expected by the end of the year, further progress toward modernisation will take much longer. For one, much of the bilateral negotiations being conducted by South Korea are limited by the purview of UN Security Council sanctions. Furthermore, the South Korean government’s position is that the project will require US and international support, much of which is dependent upon definitive progress toward denuclearisation.

With talks between the US and North Korea apparently stalled, hopes for the emergence of a diplomatic compromise seem to be fading quickly.