Don’t dismiss the Korean talks – peace is on the table

This week both Korean leaders – the North’s Kim Jong-un and the South’s Moon Jae-in – met just south of the border in the village of Panmunjom for a historic summit. According to Patrick Lawrence, writing in Salon, they spent around eight hours together. When the eight hours came to an end, the two emerged with a joint statement, saying ‘there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun’ and that both countries would work towards ‘complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.’

The wording of the statement was tentative at times, acknowledging that there was much work to be done, that this was the beginning of a long process, and yet was suitably historic in parts, declaring an end to conflict on the peninsula. And yet, if one were to read some mainstream publications, one would read a wave of cynicism and scepticism.

Now, I’m normally one for a healthy dose of scepticism, but in this case, it feels overzealous, and the product of a media that is so conditioned to covering North Korea as an issue that will not be overcome by any presidential administration. Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post this week that ‘Trump shows every sign he is already being suckered’ on the Korean issue. Trump has of course tweeted his approval at the summit, boldly declaring the Korean War was ending.

Charlie Campbell wrote in TIME that ‘Even a formal end to the Korean War, which Moon and Kim announced Friday, rings hollow unless the U.S. was also party.’

Tim Shorrock pointed out in The Nation that Abraham Denmark, a former official at the Defence Department, had tweeted that statements made by Kim before the summit were ‘certainly a positive signal, but not a game changer. No mention of denuclearisation, and easily reversible.’

Yet despite what Denmark said, and the doubt in the mainstream media, the two Korean leaders emerged with a message of peace, and, actual progress. Patrick Lawrence stated in Salon that ‘customary hostilities on both sides of the DMZ — megaphone blasts, propaganda radio broadcasts, airdrops of leaflets — will cease. The Red Cross can recommence family reunion programs — an on-and-mostly-off effort over the years.’ Whether denuclearisation of the peninsula is actually achieved or not, the Red Cross being able to reunite families who have been split by the conflict is a real, tangible piece of progress.

And it may be that this summit in Panmunjom ends up as another summit that ended with no progress on peace. It may be that the already historic pictures of the two Korean leaders shaking hands on either side of the border prove to be hollow, to have no real value. But we must will them to have significance. We must will the two men, and the US and China, to resolve the Korean situation for the benefit of all humanity.

The issue with coverage that is cynical about these talks is that by being cynical, the media lets the politicians off. It is the media’s job to hold politicians to account, and the media should be pushing those politicians to make peace. By dismissing the talks as useless, or worse, saying that they are outright deception, they give Moon and President Trump too much room to back out should the talks become strained. If the media is pitching the talks as doomed to fail, if they do fail, the politicians can go along with this rhetoric – that peace is just a faraway dream for another administration, or for another generation.

Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and former UN Ambassador, told The Nation ‘last year, the situation on the Korean Peninsula was the most tense, the most negative, I’d ever seen, so these are good, important, impressive steps.’ They are good and important steps for all of humanity. Humanity in turn needs to will the world’s leaders into peace, instead of dismissing their work as pointless.

Photo Credit: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps/Pool/Bloomberg/Getty.