American cellist Lynn Harrell plays a tune at the southern side of Panmunjeom, during a ceremony, Saturday, for the first anniversary of the summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. / Yonhap

By Yi Whan-woo

The government celebrated the first anniversary of the summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Kim Jong-un in a low key manner, Saturday.

According to experts the following day, the celebration apparently showed Moon’s woes over the stalled denuclearization talks between the North and the U.S., which poses a challenge to his mediation role.

Moon did not come to the celebration co-hosted by the Ministry of Unification, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Gyeonggi Province Government on the southern side of Panmunejom, where the summit took place April 27, 2018.

Instead it featured a 3-minute, 16 seconds-long video message from Moon, who said, “We often need to catch our breath and find a way together when we run into hurdles.”

The remainder of the ceremony mainly consisted of cultural performances.

“The President was apparently referring to the stalemate in the Pyongyang-Washington dialogue and its negative impact on the inter-Korean reconciliatory efforts,” said Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University.

He argued the ceremony was “the best scenario” that the Moon government could come up with, considering the North gave no response to the South’s offer for a joint celebration.

“It would have been nonsense if Moon showed up at the ceremony,” he added, pointing out the Panmunjeom Declaration was jointly announced by Moon and Kim during their first summit and it would have been appropriate for the two leaders to be present in any relevant celebrations.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, echoed a similar view.

“The security situation on the Korean Peninsula is in turmoil again, as it was before the summit. President Moon made the right choice by remaining low key on the first anniversary of the April 27 summit,” Yang said.

Meanwhile, Moon expressed optimism in his video message that the two Koreas will achieve “irreversible peace” and co-prosperity on the basis of the 2018 summit.

“The Panmunjeom Declaration is being implemented one by one,” he said, referring to the two Koreas’ closure of sentry posts in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and excavation of war remains.

He also noted tensions have eased in fishing zones near the Yellow Sea border and a joint liaison office is in operation in North Korea’s border city of Gaeseong.

Pope Francis, to whom Moon lobbied to visit Pyongyang when they met in the Vatican in October 2018, sent a video message to the leaders of the two Koreas, Saturday.

The Pope expressed his hope for a future of peace and unity for the peninsula on the anniversary of the inter-Korean summit.

“I pray that this anniversary of the Panmunjeom Declaration may bring about a new era of peace for all Koreans,” he said. “May this celebration offer hope to all that a future based on unity, dialogue and fraternal solidarity is indeed possible.”

Over the weekend, Pyongyang called on Seoul to ignore Washington and move ahead with inter-Korean cooperation, criticized the South and the U.S. over their combined military exercise, and redoubled calls for “self-reliance.”

In a lengthy statement Saturday, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country enumerated accomplishments from the 2018 summit and warned that “a grave security condition” was being created as in the past.

It urged the South to explore “more active measures” to realize the sustainable development of inter-Korean ties and peaceful unification.

On Sunday, the North’s Uriminzokkiri propaganda website called the Seoul-Washington military exercise “a vicious challenge to our nation and the international community and a violent violation of inter-Korean declarations.”

“This is a flame that could escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and drive the
North-South relations into a catastrophe,” it said.

In an editorial the same day, the Rodong Sinmun called on North Koreans to follow the party leadership to construct a “self-sustaining economy” at a time of continued sanctions pressure.

“Thoroughly establishing the party leadership system is a significant demand to hold up high the banner of independence and self-reliance and press ahead with the construction of socialist economy,” the newspaper said. “Especially, the trend in today’s political situation — where hostile forces’ instigation of sanctions has become more explicit — calls for raising the banner of independence and self-reliance,” it added.


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