East Asia

Peace seems to be breaking out on the Korean Peninsula – the implications could be immense

The sight of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un embracing his South Korean counterpart Moon Jao-in, and soon US President Donald Trump, count as among the most remarkable diplomatic spectacles of the past decade. The agenda the two Korean leaders signed up to is more remarkable still, providing for an end to decades of division, hostility and the threat of war between the two countries that has always been feared because of the risk that it would plunge the entire East Asia region into conflict. Yet diplomacy is easier than delivery. This is particularly true in the case of North Korea, whose leaders can hardly be expected to bargain away their own fortunes, or those of their country, cheaply. A journey has begun, but the destination remains unclear. What is certain is that the potential ‘unfreezing’ of the Korean conflict could have an enormous impact on the two countries most directly involved; relations between the regional powers – China, the United States and Japan – that have been party in some form or other to the Korean impasse; and on investors and businesses suddenly faced with new opportunities. Tensions will persist in East Asia, notably between China and Japan, and Beijing and Taipei. But Kim’s ‘coming out’ has raised expectations that the two Koreas might at last live in peace.

• Will Kim really abandon his nuclear weapons? Can his regime survive if he does?

• How ‘close’ can the two Koreas get and who, apart from themselves, are likely to be the beneficiaries?

• Would a reduction of the military threat from North Korea dissuade Japan from boosting its military?

• What do the latest developments in the Korean Peninsula mean for the relative influence of China and the United States in East Asia?