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A tale of two peace processes: Korea and Cyprus

Colin Irwin   Fri 25 May 2018   updated: Fri 01 Jun 2018

Colin Irwin and Seongwon Yoon

All peace processes are different, different peoples, histories, places, time lines and how they got in the mess they are in and how to get out of it. This is true of Cyprus and Korea but there are also some similarities and if we focus on those there may be some peace making lessons each side can learn from the other. Both Korea and Cyprus are ‘frozen conflicts’, Korea since the Armistice in 1953 and Cyprus since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Although not all conservatives are intransigent, in general, the conservative politicians in both Cyprus and Korea have made the process of peace negotiations much more protracted. Both Cyprus and Korea are separated North and South by the Green Line in Cyprus and DMZ in Korea. The South in both Cyprus and Korea is economically well developed while the North is less so and this results in the Southern populations in both Cyprus and Korea being very sceptical about the prospects of reunification as that process may create as many problems as it solves. Also, neither country can make peace all by themselves. Cyprus requires the agreement of their Guarantor States, the UK, Greece and Turkey while China and the US participated in the Armistice agreement for Korea and they, in turn, will have to play a crucial role in ending the Korean War.

A liberal Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades, who had supported the failed 2004 UN Annan Plan was elected in the South of Cyprus in 2013. In 2014 a UN Joint Declaration (1) for renewed peace negotiations was signed and a liberal Turkish Cypriot, Akinci, was elected President in the North in 2015. Similarly, liberal or progressive leaders took office in both Koreas: President Moon Jae-in in the South; and in the North, the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un looks to be heading the opposite way compared to his father, Kim Jong-il, which resulted in the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration on the 27th of April this year. But the agreement signed in Cyprus in 2013 has not resulted in a settlement of the Cyprus Problem. The conflict there remains frozen. Korea’s future prospects for peace may well be decided at the upcoming US-Trump/NK-Kim summit in Singapore on the 12th of June. Hopefully they will be more successful than the failed UN, Cyprus, UK, Greek and Turkey summit at Crans-Montana in Switzerland last year. But on this critical point there are some very significant differences between the two summits and the preparations made to help achieve a positive outcome. In Cyprus the leaders shunned a programme of confidence building measures (CBMs) while the Koreans have given their Cypriot counterparts a ‘Master Class’ in CBM, public diplomacy and personal statesmanship that has shifted South Korean public opinion in ways that Greek Cypriots can only dream of.

Significantly Clause 7 of the UN Joint Declaration signed by the Cypriots in 2014 only requires that: ‘The sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoiding blame games or other negative public comments on the negotiations. They also commit to efforts to implement confidence building measures that will provide a dynamic impetus to the prospect for a united Cyprus.’ No CBMs are specified here and no penalties for non-compliance included. It was only an aspiration of negotiation not a condition. However, the Panmunjom Declaration signed by the Korean’s listed a number of specific CBMs and publicly, at the signing, more CBMs were announced and have been, or are in the process of being implemented. Notably, Pyongyang’s participation in the Winter Olympics under a unified flag and promise to shut down its nuclear test site and to suspend nuclear/missile tests before the summit. Seoul removed propaganda loudspeakers across the DMZ right after the summit. Then, Pyongyang shifted its clocks to align with the time in the South. In addition, North Korea’s dismantlement of its nuclear test site (May), the DMZ Peace Train Music Festival (June), the reunion of separated families (August), and President Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in the fall of 2018, etc. are all in the pipeline. Most importantly, and it was this that so dramatically shifted South Korean public opinion, the day of pageantry, symbolism and expressions of public friendship and good will between the two leaders resulted in a shift of 50 per cent, from 14.7 before the summit to 64.7 after the summit, believing denuclearization and peace was possible.(2)

The Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades may not be able to get quite such a dramatic result in the South of Cyprus but less than half the Korean shift in public opinion is all he needs to get a peace ‘package’ through a referendum. Both he and Akinci were given an opportunity to do this at the opening of the Greek Church, in the Turkish Cypriot occupied ancient city of Famagusta, on the Easter leading up to the failed summit in Crans-Montana. Again, this year the same opportunity was there but the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders did not take it to demonstrate that peace on their island was possible and their future would be better for it.

Peace processes are generally best known for the agreements, declarations and treaties signed and made. But this tale of two peace processes underlines the importance of CBMs both symbolic and substantial. With this point in mind, given the Cyprus experience, the authors developed a peace poll to test Korean CBMs in Korea (copy attached) in the hope that some of them would be put into practice. Happily, events have overtaken these efforts with the Koreans implementing CBMs at a pace and with great effect that was not anticipated. This questionnaire was written to complement a similar programme of work undertaken in Cyprus(3). Regrettably those suggestions remain undone and the Cyprus peace process remains frozen. The Greek Turkish Forum(4) has recommended the Cypriots implement these CBMs but they are painfully slow to do so and would do well to look to the Koreans for inspiration.

With all these points in mind perhaps the time has come for the UN Security Council and Guarantor States to require the Cypriots to implement a significant programme of CBMs before they sponsor another round of negotiations and summit? As for Korea they should keep doing what they are doing so well. Implementation of any agreements made in Singapore on the 12th of June will not be easy and CBMs will continue to have an important role to play in their peace process for months and years to come.

1 UN Cyprus Talks (2014) 11 February 2014 Joint Declaration on Cyprus. Available at: http://www.uncyprustalks.org/11-february-2014-joint-declaration-on-cyprus/

2 RealMeter (2018, April 30), A sudden turn of the South Korean perceptions of North Korea’s willingness to denuclearization and peace: Distrust 78% ? Trust 65%. Available at: http://www.realmeter.net/

3 Irwin, C. J. (2017) Cyprus Peace Poll 2 – Confidence Building Measures – ‘Peace is not enough’. Available at: https://peacepolls.etinu.net/peacepolls/documents/007937.pdf

4 GTF Statement 28th February 2018, Available at: http://cyprus-mail.com/2018/03/09/statement-sent-two-leaders-greek-turkish-forum/

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Korea Herald
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ROK CBM Poll Questionnaire