Why Is Seoul Opting out of the Korean Peace Process?

February 26, 2019 13:40

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Monday there is a chance that a formal declaration of an end to the Korean War will be included in a joint statement following the U.S.-North Korea summit. "South Korea and China, the U.S. and China and the South and North have virtually declared an end to the war already, so the only thing left is between the U.S. and North Korea," Kim said. Since he stepped into office, President Moon Jae-in has been trying to convince the U.S. to declare an end to the Korean War, which was only halted by an armistice in 1953.

Such a declaration would be a wonderful thing if the North was well on its way to scrapping its nuclear weapons. But at their first summit in Singapore last year, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made no progress whatsoever on denuclearization, so it may be wishful to think they make a breakthrough at the second summit.

Yet Cheong Wa Dae says it would be quite enough if the U.S. and North Korea declared an end to the war. More than 120,000 South Korean soldiers died while trying to protect their country from the Chinese-backed North Korean invasion in 1950-53. Many more South Koreans were maimed for life, and countless numbers of civilians died. The entire Korean Peninsula was reduced rubble. But all that seems now forgotten, and Cheong Wa Dae does not even want to be included in any negotiations about what declaring the war over would actually mean. The president is effectively leaving that tiresome task to someone else. Back in 1953, South Korea opposed even a ceasefire without reunification and ended up boycotting the armistice. Having developed into one of the world's 10 largest economies, it should at least be included in any declaration of an end to the war. Perhaps the spokesman misspoke? That would at least be some relief.

Once the war is declared over, of course the doors are open to all sorts of other changes. North Korea could quite rightly demand the dismantling of the UN Command that still keeps peace at the border, or the scrapping of the Northern Limit Line, which has served as a buffer against more potential invasions by the North. In such a situation, the last thing South Korea can afford is to stand aside deliberately while the U.S. and North Korea discuss its fate. And what will happen when an actual peace treaty is discussed? Where will Seoul be then?

Even until recently Cheong Wa Dae was singing quite a different tune. The presidential office kept Moon's itinerary flexible so he could rush to join the signing of any declaration ending the war. It was China's participation that was a point of debate. What on earth has happened?

It would be a national shame for Seoul to be absent from the signing of the declaration. Yet on the same day the president thundered, "We are the masters of the Korean Peninsula's destiny," his spokesman said Seoul really does not need to play any part. How can Moon possibly contemplate giving more money to the North without even being part of the declaration? The government urgently needs to get its act together.
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