May 26, 2019

Current Developments on the Korean Peninsula















Acting as MC Michel Kerres, from NRC newspaper, during Q&A session, at the table Remco Breuker and Peter Potman.

By Guido Lanfranchi.

On Tuesday May 22nd, amid the rapid and tumultuous events occurring on the Korean peninsula, a large audience gathered at the Societeit De Witte, in the very center of The Hague, to attend the seminar: “Current Developments on the Korean Peninsula.” The event was organized thanks to a collaboration between the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Netherlands,  the Asia and Oceania Department, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Leiden Asia Centre and the Clingendael Institute.


North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un suddenly pledging to denuclearize, the leaders of the two Koreas meeting in Panmunjom and agreeing to work together on ending the Korean War, and Kim Jong-un scheduling a meeting with US President Donald Trump. All this in an outstandingly short amount of time.

How could someone interested in the Korean peninsula keep track of all these developments and (at least try to) understand them? With this in mind, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Netherlands, the Leiden Asia Center and  the Clingendael Institute, organized a seminar on the “Current Developments on the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Michel Kerres, NRC newspaper, Mr. Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute, Mr. Remco Breuker, Professor of Korean Studies at Leiden University and Director Leiden Asia Centre, H.E. Lee Yun Young, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Dr. Jun Bong-Geun, Advisor on the Inter Korean Summit 2018, Republic of Korea and Mr. Peter Potman, Director Asia and Oceania, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The event, which took place during the whole morning of Tuesday, May 22nd, featured an outstanding panel of speakers. Among them, H.E.Mr. Lee Yun-Young, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Netherlands; Dr. Jun Bong-Geun, Advisor on the Inter-Korean Summit 2018; Professor Remco Breuker, lecturer of Korean Studies at Leiden University; Mr. Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow at Clingendael Institute; and Mr. Peter Potman, Director of Asia and Oceania Department at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

H.E. Ambassador Lee, highlighted in his speech the outstanding value of the Panmunjom meeting. He remembered that the meeting had been possible only because of previous diligent work by diplomats and functionaries from both sides. As for the future developments, Ambassador Lee stressed that “we Koreans have an aspiration for peace,” and that everyone in the peninsula will follow the negotiations’ developments very closely. As for the international community, he noted that international support to the talks will be more than needed in order to ensure a good outcome, which will benefit not only the Korean people, but also the whole international community.

In his lecture, Dr. Jun Bong-Geun explored a wide array of questions related to the Korean peninsula. He analyzed the different aspects of inter-Korean relations, focusing on the issues of unification, security, and peace. Also, he outlined the political and economic landscape, both domestically and internationally, in which North and South Korea have acted in recent times, before moving to the current situation.

Speaking about the recent talks, Dr. Jun Bong-Geom noted that the current negotiations are a purely political process, managed by strong political leaders, rather than a bureaucratic process. Moving then to potential future developments, Dr. Jun Bong-Geum presented four hypothetical scenarios: confrontation-containment, forced denuclearization, engagement, and peace-regime building.

He stressed that, while denuclearization was a key term in the April 27th Panmunjom declaration, there are different models of denuclearization, and it is still not clear if the many actors involved will be able to agree on one. Eschewing the idea of adopting past models, Dr. Jun Bong-Geum stressed the need of a unique ‘Korea-type’ solution, which should take into consideration both past experiences and the peculiarities of the Korean case.

The lecture of Sico van der Meer, touched upon several similar issues. Mr. van der Meer outlined the possible outcomes of the newly established negotiation track between North Korea and the United States. He stressed that the leaders of both countries seem to have a strong political will to reach a deal, but he also noted that, in case of failure, a conflict would not be anymore such an unlikely scenario.

Questioned by the audience, Mr. van der Meer touched upon another series of issues, such as the diplomatic negotiations ahead of the US-DPRK Singapore summit, North Korea’s shift away from its Byongjin policy, and the role of regional states (such as Japan) in the solution of the crisis.

Mr. Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute. Current developments on the Korean peninsula. May 22, 2018 The Hague.

Professor Remco Breuker shifted the attention of the audience towards another fundamental issue regarding North Korea: the problem of Human Rights. He noted that Human Rights discussions have been often left out of the negotiations’ agenda, both in the past and in the present talks. This has often been justified on the grounds that the resolution of the Korean conflict and a transition towards more prosperous economic models in North Korea would in the long run alleviate the Human Rights related problems.

To the contrary, Prof. Breuker advocated the need for including Human Rights as a cornerstone of negotiations, if international rule of law is to have a meaning. Interestingly, he argued that the real problem is not North Korea having nuclear weapons, as in other situations in history this situation has already been handled (e.g. during the Cold War). Rather, the North Korean problem mostly lies in the country’s sociological, ideological system; therefore, he suggested, negotiators should talk about Human Rights at all costs.

Mr. Peter Potman, from the Dutch Foreign Ministry started his speech by mentioning the long-lasting interest of Dutch people for Korea.

He stressed that the Dutch government’s priority on the North Korean situation remains the issue of non-proliferation; unification, although significant, is not the primary concern. Mr. Potman voiced its support for a critical engagement aimed on the one hand at pressuring the North Korean regime to change its behavior, but on the other hand to avoid any escalations of tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Also, Mr. Potman talked about the involvement of China in the negotiations with North Korea, expressing his conviction that China is playing and will play a role in shaping the outcome of the future talks.

During the Q&A section, the audience had the possibility to ask more questions to the speakers. The questions focused on, among the many issues: the different perceptions of denuclearization held by the different actors involved; the role of Human Rights in the negotiations; the impact of sanctions on the North Korean economy and, especially, on its people.

Since the day of the event, there have been even more frantic developments and plot twists. On May 24th, the government of North Korea invited the international press to witness the destruction of its nuclear test site of Pungyye-ri, in order to show its goodwill concerning denuclearization.

The very same day, on account of a recent verbal escalation over remarks by the US State Department and the North Korean Foreign Ministry, US President Trump temporarily called off the forthcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. After further talks between US and North Korean officials, the two leaders rescheduled the historic meeting, which will take place on June 12th in Singapore.

Observers from all over the world are keen to see what will be the outcome of this meeting. Among the many people following the developments, those who participated to the seminar on May 22nd will surely be better equipped to understand how events will unfold.

Comments are closed.