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Unification Minister Lee visits Panmunjeom


Many thoughts came to my mind when I looked around Panmunjeom, from the Freedom House, the conference room of the UNC Military Armistice Commission, to this place, where South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un planted a commemorative tree.
This time of year would be especially meaningful for us if we could celebrate the second anniversary of the Pyeongyang Joint Declaration. It’s a shame that we are the only ones here today amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the hiatus in the ‘time of the two Koreas.’
Looking around here and there, however, we can see evidence of the efforts towards peace by the leaders of the two Koreas. Many footprints remain.
Unarmed soldiers stand guard in the Joint Security Area, which used to be a ‘space of division’ but is now the place where the tree planted by the leaders is taking root.
The South and the North ceased all hostile acts against each other in every domain including land, sea, and air; conducted joint searches for war remains on Arrowhead Hill in Cheorwon; and withdrew some guard posts in the DMZ, thus opening a path to peace.
Back in 2017, the two Koreas nearly reached a flashpoint and some even talked aloud about war on the Korean Peninsula. Now, military tensions have been eased and the people feel more peace than before.
Compared to conflicts in the Middle East, the border dispute in Southwest Asia, and the rising military tensions in the South China Sea, inter-Korean relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula remain stable.
In this regard, the historical decision and agreement by the leaders of the two Koreas was truly groundbreaking. The Pyeongyang Joint Declaration and the Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjeom Declaration in the Military Domain (Inter-Korean Military Agreement) have done a great deal toward preventing military conflicts.
It should also be duly recognized that the South and the North have worked hard to implement the agreements and realize perfect peace.
We are still striving to carry out the agreements even now.
We are solving the issue of anti-North Korea leaflets through the legislative process to comply with the agreement that both sides cease all hostile acts against each other.
In consideration of various matters, we adjusted the schedule for the ROK-US joint military exercises.
Despite our efforts, the denuclearization negotiations have made little progress and cooperation in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, tourism to Mount Geumgang, and exchange between separated families have fallen short of our expectations.
I believe that North Korea is willing to fulfill the agreements.
It was very regrettable that the North blew up the inter-Korean joint liaison office.
Interestingly, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un then suspended military actions against South Korea, and I believe that his order was part of the efforts to prevent tensions from rising further.
North Korea also withdrew plans to reinstall loudspeakers and prepare for anti-South Korea leaflets in response to the scattering of anti-North Korea leaflets by a few South Korean civic organizations.
Despite artillery firing drills on Changrin Island last year and multiple gunshots toward a South Korean guard post in the DMZ in May this year, I think that the North is generally complying with the military agreements.
It isn’t just us who believe this. In a recent forum, Robert Abrams, the commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, stated that North Korea is abiding by the military agreements.
Of course, the Pyeongyang Joint Declaration of September 19, 2018 is not confined to the military domain.
At the time of the signing of the declaration two years ago, as a lawmaker and a Korean national, I lauded the historic milestone made by the leaders of the two Koreas and expressed hope that the agreements would be realized. Unfortunately, the ‘time of the two Koreas’ has made little progress since then.
However, in a situation where conflict remains between the two Koreas, we have eased military tensions and maintained a state of peace in the border regions, and this is something that should be most appreciated.
Promises must be fulfilled, and agreements are completed through implementation.
South and North Korea should continue their joint efforts to realize the decisions by their leaders and resume the ‘time of the two Koreas.’
The government plans to begin with ‘small approaches’ in humanitarian matters and exchange and cooperation areas which the two Koreas can do right now in order to implement the joint declaration.
By doing so, we will build trust and confidence again.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic situation improves, we will quickly resume field trips to Panmunjeom and reopen the DMZ Peace Trails, perhaps as soon as October. I hope that we will be able to propose the holding of reunions of separated families on a small scale in Panmunjeom.
I expect the North to respond to our proposal in order to implement the joint declaration signed by the leaders of the two Koreas.
In the joint declaration of September 19, 2018, South and North Korea agreed to work together for complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea and the United States should resolve outstanding issues. Yet, I think that there are quite a lot of issues to which South and North Korea should find solutions themselves.
Even before that, the two Koreas should continue to pursue annual humanitarian cooperation projects to some degree in healthcare, prevention of infectious diseases, and climate change, based on communication between Seoul and Washington, regardless of the situation. Only after that can South and North Korea and the US build mutual trust.
I hope to restore consultation channels including the inter-Korean joint liaison office and to resume heart-to-heart talks as soon as possible.
Facing a grim reality of double tasks - traditional security tasks caused by competition between powerful countries and non-traditional security tasks due to COVID-19 and climate change - South and North Korea need to recognize that they have an inseparable relationship by destiny as a community of life and security.
Lastly, it was extremely unfortunate that the North suffered so much flood damage, just as much as the South, and I expect that both sides can realize solidarity and cooperation on an appropriate occasion.
Just as the leaders of the two Koreas planted the tree here with a dream of a future of peace, I hope that the two sides will work together again to bear fruits of peace and prosperity.
Thank you.

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