[News analysis] S. Korean president urges for end-of-war declaration during 75th UN General Assembly

Posted on : 2020-09-23 17:39 KST Modified on : 2020-09-23 17:39 KST
Can Moon successfully recruit the international community in Korean peace process?
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers his keynote address via video link at the 75th UN General Assembly on Sept. 22. (EPA/Yonhap News)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers his keynote address via video link at the 75th UN General Assembly on Sept. 22. (EPA/Yonhap News)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked the international community to support a declaration of the end of the Korean War. Moon expressed his commitment to restarting the Korean Peninsula Peace Process, which has ground to a halt. He also extended an overture to North Korea, asking it to help set up a Northeast Asia body to cooperate on disease control and public health.

“An end-of-war declaration would open the door to a permanent peace regime, along with denuclearization, on the Korean Peninsula. It is a first step by which we can confirm our mutual commitment to peace,” Moon said during his keynote address at the 75th UN General Assembly on Sept. 22, delivered via video link.

“Peace on the Korean Peninsula will guarantee peace in Northeast Asia and will also have a positive effect on our changing world order,” Moon went on to say in an appeal for the UN, and the international community as a whole, to lend its support.

Moon also had a message for North Korea. “Peace on the Korean Peninsula is still incomplete, and even hopeful changes have been discontinued. But South Korea will continue dialogue,” he stressed.

That was when Moon proposed that North Korea help establish a Northeast Asia cooperative initiative for disease control and public health. “A cooperative initiative in which North Korea would join a number of countries, including China, Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea, to protect life and guarantee safety would provide a security guarantee for North Korea security through multilateral cooperation in the international community,” the South Korean president said.

Moon’s decision to once again bring up the idea of an end-of-war declaration in his keynote address on Tuesday appears to have been based on his determination to bring inter-Korean relations back on course in the second half of his presidency and to create an institutional framework for guaranteeing mutual trust.

The end-of-war declaration disappeared from the discourse for some time after the rupture of negotiations during the second North Korea-US summit in Hanoi in February 2019. Prior to the summit, Moon had made the case that an end-of-war declaration was an essential precondition for ending the US and North Korea’s hostile relationship and making progress toward denuclearization.

Moon suggests declaration could include snapback clause

Moon even suggested that an end-of-war declaration could include a snapback. In an interview with Fox News in September 2018, Moon acknowledged that an end-of-war declaration, being a political declaration, could be revoked at any time, but said that toughening sanctions would always be an option if the North didn’t keep its word. But his efforts proved futile.

Moon seems to believe that, since inter-Korean trust has weakened, some kind of qualitative progress — such as an end-of-war declaration — is needed to break through the current stalemate. Since the beginning of the year, Moon has been taking more aggressive action under the recognition that he’d done little to improve inter-Korean relations while waiting for progress in North Korea-US dialogue.

“South and North Korea should begin with what is immediately practicable,” Moon said at the time, calling for the connection of railroad lines, joint excavation of remains, reunions of divided families, and the establishment of an international zone for peace in the DMZ. That also helps explain a major shuffle of his national security team, bringing in Park Jie-won as director of the National Intelligence Service, repositioning Suh Hoon as director of the Blue House National Security Office, and appointing Lee In-young as Unification Minister.

The Blue House believes that an end-of-war declaration could help North Korea overcome its mistrust and would create momentum for implementing various “peace economy” projects proposed by the Moon administration.

Last year, Moon directly appealed to the US, China, and other related countries to make an end-of-war declaration. This time, however, Moon has asked the international community, and the UN in particular, for its attention and assistance. “Faced with the crisis of COVID-19, which is a greater threat to humanity than war, I have gained a deeper understanding of how the safety of our neighbors is directly connected to our own safety,” Moon said.

In the post-COVID-19 world, Moon said, “Peace on the Korean Peninsula will guarantee peace in Northeast Asia and will also have a positive effect on our changing world order.” Moon asked the international community for its interest and cooperation on improving inter-Korean relations through “more inclusive international cooperation” and to help build favorable public opinion.

In addition, Moon reached out to North Korea to set up a Northeast Asian initiative for cooperating on disease control and public health. While North Korea officially claims to have no confirmed cases of COVID-19, experts believe the North is facing considerable difficulties because of the pandemic. During a congratulatory address for Liberation Day (Aug. 15) two years ago, Moon suggested that North Korea take part in an East Asia railroad community and other initiatives for multilateral cooperation.

It remains unclear how North Korea will respond to Moon’s proposal. Pyongyang has refused to engage in dialogue with either South Korea or the US since the failure of the Hanoi summit; it even blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, located in the North Korean city of Kaesong, this past March. Furthermore, it’s widely expected that the North will continue to monitor the situation, without changing its current stance, until the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

By Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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