By José Ramos-Horta* – The Hill
Opinion contributor. The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.
For much of 2017 and 2018, the world was enthralled and deeply worried over the verbal war, threats and personal insults mutually leveled between the U.S. dismissed as “waste of time” the efforts of his own secretary of State to engage the North Korean regime in talks. It appeared they were set on a collision course leading to a disastrous war.
Now as we approach the June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim Jong-un, the clouds of war have abated. Instead of war, peace seems to be breaking out in the Korean Peninsula. Events are unfolding not unlike a well-scripted reality show. Among the U.S. president’s supporters and a variety of commentators, there is excitement and about possibly awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Trump for his actions, even coining a new term, “peace by force.”
But the show ignores a sane man, one genuinely committed to the pursuit of peace, consistently and steadily working toward the end of the permanent nightmare of the Korean war. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has doggedly pursued dialogue with his Northern counterpart and a diffusing of tensions at every opportunity. The most visible example, at the height of the flame-throwing between the U.S. and North Korea, occurred at the Winter Olympics, where he warmly welcomed Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who charmed her hosts and captivated the media. It was a reminder to all of our common humanity and set the tone for dialogue instead of saber-rattling.
We are at the very early stages of what is certainly going to be a long, drawn out process toward peace between the divided Koreas. As a long standing human rights and democracy advocate, President Moon belongs to the political family of two late presidents, Kim Dae Jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moohyun (2003-2008), his predecessors and soul mates, who carved and trod the road themselves in a decades-old quest for lasting peace and reunification of the two Koreas.
Both Kim and Roh made history as they travelled to Pyongyang on 13th June 2000 and on 15th June 2007 respectively, and took other steps including the opening of a railroad line between the two countries that reunited families separated since the Korean War, providing rice from the South to the North, and much more.
Neither of them permanently succeeded in their goals. Today there is reason for renewed hope that with Moon carrying the torch forward, their work was not for nothing.
The Panmunjom Declaration, stating that the two Koreas will promote inter-Korean relations and completely cease all hostile acts and will actively cooperate to establish a solid peace regime and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It has laid valuable groundwork.
Peace cannot be accomplished between the two Korean leaders alone. Vital questions that remain to be answered include what rewards and assurances Kim Jong-un can expect from the U.S. and other major powers in return for abandoning his nuclear ambitions, and the possible withdrawal or draw down of U.S. troops in South Korea. Moon, a true statesman, wise and humble, has acknowledged Trump as the determining element in the process; without U.S. support, the process would stall or fall backwards.
Leader Kim are of the U.S.’s indispensability, they are equally mindful that the superpower in their neighborhood, China, will remain an indispensable partner in every sense. For successful completion of this peace process, and for the sake of peace in the broader Asia region, the U.S. must forge a relationship of trust and partnership with China (as it is doing with India) as partners in the process.
All parties must support continued dialogue between the DPRK and the ROK, recognizing as an unassailable fact that dialogue is the only means available to deescalate tensions and prevent instability and war. Wherever and whenever possible, all partners must support the continued exploration of opportunities to expand technical, scientific, medical, cultural and trade cooperation with the DPRK, bringing the DPRK into the international community. This will be the result of skilled diplomacy and international cooperation. It will not garner television ratings.
How the members of the Nobel Committee will respond to these events, and whether they will include in their accolades someone who has just violated an international agreement with Iran and invited further conflict in the Middle East is not for me to say.
It is the result of a long, formal process of intensive review on the part of individuals dedicated to fulfilling the terms of the will of Alfred Nobel and carrying forward a long tradition of acknowledging both our world’s peace makers and our milestones toward peace.
If President Trump does play a key role in a process that succeeds and achieves what others before have tried with North Korea, he would do well, at the same time, to show heart to refugees, migrants, U.S. ethnic minorities, members of the Muslim faith and the others being demeaned and threatened by the alarming rise of racism and racial violence in his own country. And he must recognize that the road he is walking is one that was built not on Twitter but by decades of work by the former and current South Korean leaders, and one that continues to be built ahead of him by vital Asian partners.
*José Ramos-Horta received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation of his country, Timor-Leste. He is the former prime minister and president of Timor-Leste and has done missions for the UN Secretary General including acting as Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General to Guinea Bissau, co-chairing a High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations, serving on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and more.