South Korea’s Moon at the U.N.: Trump, Kim Jong-un Began ‘New Era of Peace’

Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea speaks during the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

South Korean President Moon Jae-in optimistically praised the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday for helping to solve many of the world’s problems and said its “efforts toward peace are coming to fruition,” notably including on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon’s assessment of the peace process was extremely positive, culminating in a proposal to transform the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas into a U.N. World Heritage Site.

“The U.N. and the Korean peninsula share the same goal of sustaining peace,” Moon said.

“The world is joining forces to help each other in disaster and emergency-relief cooperation, as well as in peacekeeping efforts,” he said. “The U.N. must continue to play a central role in fostering cooperation within the international community.”

Moon recalled how his Republic of Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation in the same year as the inception of the United Nations, and was able to “overcome the scourge of war with the assistance of the U.N. and the international community.” He pledged Korea would continue working to bring peace and prosperity to the Pacific region.

After this upbeat preamble, Moon offered an optimistic prognosis for negotiations with North Korea, looking forward to the next steps in an ongoing peace process he saw as beginning with the U.N.-approved suspension of a joint military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea in 2018 and North Korea’s visit to the Winter Olympics.

“Decisions made by President Trump and Chairman Kim provided the momentum behind a dramatic change in the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” he said, referring to the American and North Korean heads of state, respectively. 

“Compared to the past, in which it took only a few rounds of gunfire to instigate major political unrest, the Korean Peninsula has undergone a distinct change. The negotiating table for peace on the Korean Peninsula remains accessible. The two Koreas and the U.S. are setting their sights not only on denuclearization and peace, but also on economic cooperation that will follow thereafter,” he said.

“The Republic of Korea intends to create a peace economy whereby peace can lead to economic cooperation, which in turn will reinforce a virtuous cycle,” Moon said, citing the example of European development in the peace that followed World War Two.

“We will continue dialogue with North Korea, and we’ll find and make a way toward complete denuclearization and permanent peace while maintaining cooperation with U.N. member states,” he pledged.

Moon said that peace “can only be created through dialogue” and must be underpinned with “agreements and law.”

“Only peace that has been accomplished on the basis of trust will last,” he said. “Over the past year and a half, dialogue and negotiations have produced significant results on the Korean Peninsula. Panmunjom, which used to be a symbol of division, has now become a demilitarized area where not even a single pistol exists. The two Koreas withdrew guard posts inside the DMZ, thereby transforming the very symbol of confrontation into a peace zone.”

Moon stressed that, despite a few diplomatic setbacks, no serious confrontation has occurred on the Korean Peninsula since the current peace process began, a marked improvement over previous attempts to reduce tensions in the region. He praised North Korea for helping to repatriate Korean War remains from various nations, including his own and the United States.

“These efforts have made it possible for President Trump to become the first sitting American president to cross the military demarcation line and set foot on North Korean soil,” Moon noted.

“The easing military tensions and solid trust among the leaders of both Koreas and the U.S. set the stage for a momentous trilateral meeting at Panmunjom. President Trump’s action in taking Chairman Kim’s hand and stepping over the military demarcation was, in itself, a declaration of the true beginning of a new era of peace. It was a remarkable step that will go down in the history of peace on the Korean Peninsula and in northeast Asia,” he said.

“I hope both leaders will take yet another huge step from there,” Moon said.

Noting that the Korean War has not technically ended, Moon hoped “the tragedy of war” would not be repeated on the Korean Peninsula and called for the long-running armistice to be replaced by a permanent peace treaty. He offered security guarantees to North Korea and hoped it would reciprocate, making it possible to “accelerate denuclearization and the development of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

“At the very least, all hostile acts must be put on hold while the dialogue is ongoing,” he said.

Moon said lasting peace between the Koreas could only be achieved through cultural and economic exchange, suggesting that rising mutual prosperity would eliminate the rationale for conflict.

“A peace economy in which the two Koreas take part will solidify peace on the peninsula, and at the same time contribute to economic development in east Asia and the whole world,” he anticipated.

Moon proposed to the U.N. General Assembly the idea of transforming the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas into an “international peace zone,” creating a 250-kilometer-wide “pristine ecological treasure trove” of largely undeveloped land and a collection of historic landmarks that could become a “common heritage of humankind.”

“Once peace is established between the two Koreas, I will work together with North Korea to inscribe the DMZ as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” he pledged, anticipating joint development between both Koreas and countries around the world to explore the region’s “ecology and culture,” and suggesting the United Nations could relocate its Korean offices to the former DMZ. 

Moon noted the work of clearing mines from the DMZ is expected to take about 15 years, but U.N. participation in the effort could instantly turn the zone into an area of international cooperation and provide North Korea with the sort of reliable, highly visible security buffer it needs to begin dismantling its nuclear weapons.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un and I agreed on the peaceful use of the DMZ,” he revealed, adding that North Korea has taken steps to improve its railroads and other infrastructure so it can begin interfacing with the South Korean economy, the proposed DMZ peace area, and the rest of east Asia.

Moon concluded by effusively praising the role of “free and fair trade” in helping east Asia emerge from the shadow of colonialism, which might be taken as a single raindrop falling from the soaring heights of his sunny address and landing somewhere in the vicinity of Tokyo.

While he did not rebuke Japan specifically, Moon’s remarks clearly implied Japan’s current trade dispute and long-simmering feud with South Korea over World War Two and its aftermath are not helpful to the South Korean president’s vision of regional peace and enthusiastic cooperation.

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