On the day that North Korea key fired his first missile of the year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was in the border town of Goseong, to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a railway line he hopes will one day reconnect to the divided Korean peninsula.
Moon expressed concern that the January 5 test ran the risk of further destabilizing inter-Korean ties, and stressed that his government would not give up hope of resuming peace talks.
Only dialogue can “fundamentally overcome this situation”, the South Korean president said. “If both Koreans work together and build trust, peace will one day be achieved.”
Since taking office five years ago, Moon has made unprecedented efforts to involve North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The couple met three times in 2018, promised to declares Korean War – which did not end with a peace treaty, but a ceasefire in 1953 – over by the end of the year.
But that bid, coupled with negotiations over the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and its provision of relief from the punishment of global sanctions, came to a halt the following year, when a summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump broke down in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
Kim has since rejected presentations of Trump’s successor to resume talks without preconditions.
Moon, who is due to leave office in May, has in recent months stepped up efforts to put the peace process back on track, by supporting the US and China – both involved in the Korean War – for their support in formally declaring the conflict over.
Moon said in a recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly that if all the major parties involved in the conflict “declared an end to the war, I believe we can make irreversible progress in deconstruction and a usher in an era of complete peace “.
The proposal has the support of most of the South Korean public, but has divided experts. Some say it could help break the diplomatic deadlock on the Korean Peninsula, while others fear it could threaten South Korea’s security, including by undermining the country’s defense alliance with the United States.
‘Political, symbolic measure’
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
Christine Ahn, executive director of the advocacy group Women Cross DMZ, notes that the summit between the leaders of the US, South Korea and North Korea in 2018 and 2019 led Kim to a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, the release of three detained Americans, the demining of portions of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, as well as the reunion of divorced families.
“It’s time to take the use of force off the table,” Ahn said, describing the proposed end-of-war declaration as a “political, symbolic measure” that could build confidence and create momentum for a return to discussions.
But to be effective, she says the statement must be accompanied by “fundamental shifts in US policy as well as commitments on all sides to reduce hostilities”. This could include steps such as easing sanctions, scaling down the US and South Korea’s military exercises, as well as the lifting of the US travel ban on North Korea to allow family reunions.
Ahn says signing an end-of-war declaration would allow diplomats to “get to work, go where negotiations have stopped since Hanoi, and begin the process of setting up timetables for disarmament.”
She adds that those who argue against such a statement have offered no viable alternatives.
“Simply insisting that North Korea concede to US demands for denuclearization, and to believe that more pressure-based tactics will achieve these goals when there is no evidence to the contrary, is not a viable solution,” he said. she said.
The U.S. has yet to confirm the extent of its support for Moon’s peace effort, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan saying last October that Seoul and Washington “have somewhat different perspectives on the exact order or timing or conditions” of the proposed treaty.
Washington has since made few comments on the proposal, although South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said on December 29 that Seoul and Washington had “effectively reached an agreement on its draft text”.
South Korea’s foreign ministry also said earlier this month that China supported its initiative, quoting a top Chinese official as saying that Beijing believed such a move would “contribute to the promotion of peace and stability on the Korean side”. peninsula”.
However, North Korea’s response so far has been lukewarm.
Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, called the proposal was “interesting and admirable” last year, but she said the conditions were not right because of Seoul’s “hostile” policies – a reference to economic sanctions and the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that Pyongyang conducted call repetition for invasion.
And Kim, in his new year speech this year, made no mention of the South Korean proposal.
Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korean expert at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in the USA, believes that North Korea is only ‘making people uninterested’, as it has been since the 1970s, when the USA ‘ a demand for an end-of-war declaration signed a peace agreement to end the Vietnam War.
“North Korea has in mind the overall downgrading and withdrawal of US military support for South Korea in the long run. “And the end of the declaration of war is a baby step, but an important step in that direction,” he said.
There are currently about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and Moon’s government has said the end-of-war declaration will not affect the alliance between the two nations. It also says that the proposal will not mean “a legal, structural change in the current ceasefire regime”, including in the status of the US-led An assignment (UNC), the multinational military force that helped avert the North Korean invasion in 1953 and is now tasked with enforcing the ceasefire.
But Lee says an end-of-war declaration “will probably make the UNC illegal and it will have to be dismantled”, while also raising questions on the Korean Peninsula and in the US about the need for US troops in South Korea to station.
“The most attractive model for North Korea is the Paris Peace Agreement of January 1973, which ended the Vietnam War and led to the US withdrawal from South Vietnam,” Lee said. “It is a peace treaty, called a peace treaty, but there was war days later, and the North united Vietnam, under a communist government in 1975.”
He added: “So all these pleasant-sounding, peaceful-sounding agreements are only good if there is the will, on both sides or among all signatories, to keep the peace. Sometimes it’s a diplomatic kid, it’s a prank to achieve the exact opposite, gain control and gain territory in a non-peaceful way. ”
Despite all the merits and risks of the South Korean proposal, its fate remains uncertain.
Moon’s single term of five years will expire in less than five months, and the race for the presidency is going to be a tough one.
Moon Jae-myung, the candidate of Moon’s party, supports the plan, but his main opponent, Yoon Seok-yul, spoke out against it, saying an end-of-war declaration could weaken the UNC and domestic support for US military presence undermined in South Korea.
And despite Seoul’s claims of US and China support for the proposed statement, experts say there is little clarity on the international front.
Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at the Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, says the US and North Korea want different outcomes from an end-of-war declaration.
“For the United States, a joint declaration is acceptable if it will lead to significant and substantial progress on North Korea’s denuclearization. “But this statement is not really closely linked to making progress on that front,” he said.
“And for North Korea, the agreement on a joint declaration should lead to some significant benefits. What North Korea wants most is relief from sanctions. But that is not something the South Korean government can decide. So, unless there are guaranteed benefits, the North Korean government will not find that proposal attractive.
“It was a long shot, a very long shot from the start.”