[Correspondent’s column] Now’s no time to stop talks on an end-of-war declaration

Posted on : 2021-12-10 17:41 KST Modified on : 2021-12-10 17:41 KST
While a declaration may not come to fruition at the Olympics as hoped, progress must continue to be made
Jung In-hwan
Jung In-hwan
By Jung In-hwan, Beijing correspondent

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, and stopped on July 27, 1953. The dictionary definition of “stop” refers to the “cessation of movement or action.” In other words, what has stopped can be resumed at any time. For instance, rain that had stopped falling can start falling again. That’s why it’s so terrifying to say that the war “stopped” and instead of it having “ended.”

The US has decided to carry out a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics scheduled for next February. Following this new turn of events, some are pointing out that President Moon Jae-in’s ambitious plan to sign an end-of-war declaration has gone awry. In fact, the government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to actively use the four-year Northeast Asian Olympic relay — starting with Pyeongchang in 2018 and ending with Beijing in 2022 — as a platform for pushing forward the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.

If the leaders of South Korea, North Korea, the US and China could gather together in Beijing and declare an end to the Korean War, then that would be the best-case scenario and leave very little to be desired. The possibility of this happening is not completely non-existent. But, in reality, it seems reasonable to say that that ship has sailed. What, then, are the next steps?

“[. . .] In the interest of stopping the Korean conflict, with its great toil of suffering and bloodshed on both sides, and with the objective of establishing an armistice which will insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved [. . .]”

Above is the objective of the Armistice Agreement that went into effect at 10 pm on July 27, 1953, as articulated in the preamble of the “Agreement between the Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, on the one hand, and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and the Commander of the Chinese People’s volunteers, on the other hand, concerning a military armistice in Korea.” The Armistice Agreement, consisting of a preamble, five articles and 63 paragraphs, stipulated in detail the establishment of the military demarcation line and demilitarized zone (DMZ), the formation of the Military Armistice Commission and Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, arrangements relating to prisoners of war, and more. Towards the end, Article 4 paragraph 60 included the following “recommendations” to the governments on both sides:

“In order to insure the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, the military Commanders of both sides hereby recommend to the governments of the countries concerned on both sides that, within three (3) months after the Armistice Agreement is signed and becomes effective, a political conference of a higher level of both sides be held by representatives appointed respectively to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, etc.”

The agreement stipulated that political talks to officially end the suspended war should be held within three months, but more than 68 years and five months later, the “peaceful settlement of the Korean question” has yet to be achieved. This is why discussions on an end-of-war declaration should not be stopped now.

In both the 2007 South-North Summit Declaration and the Panmunjom Declaration signed on April 27, 2018, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to pursue an end-of-war declaration. However, this is the first time that the US has involved itself so closely with the issue, even working on the text of the declaration. On the Chinese side, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party in charge of foreign affairs, met with Blue House National Security Office Director Suh Hoon on Dec. 2 and expressed his support for a declaration to end the war. Although North Korea has yet to show a concrete response, this is the first time in history that we see such progress being made on this issue.

Immediately after the signing of the 1994 Agreed Framework in Geneva, which eased the first North Korean nuclear crisis, North Korea and the United States discussed the issue of establishing a liaison office in each other’s countries on the premise of establishing diplomatic relations. Pyongyang and Washington conducted face-to-face negotiations five times while also looking for office spaces and accommodation options for their delegations, but things didn’t work out in the end. When the time comes for North Korea and the US to discuss the issue of establishing a liaison office again, they will be able to restart talks where they left off the last time.

The term of President Moon Jae-in, who took office on May 10, 2017, will end on May 9. Will he be able to negotiate an end-of-war declaration while still in office? It certainly won’t be easy. Nevertheless, progress must continue to be made. For whoever the next president may be, they will have to take up the baton from wherever the Moon administration leaves off and continue towards the finish line.

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

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