NEWS & VIEWS
MANY a time in the past, efforts were made by North and South Korean leaders to end the war, as technically the war never ended, and it is armistice that took place in 1953. Of course, those efforts were sabotaged by the US to advance its designs in East Asia and Korean Peninsula. On Friday, once again the leaders of North and South Korea met for denuclearization talks at the peninsula’s demilitarized zone (DMZ) when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history by being the first regime leader entering territory controlled by the South. A joint statement issued after the read: “There will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.” North Korean President Moon Jae-in was chief of staff to then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun eleven years ago at the time of last summit.
Now Moon Jae-in has the chance to play his role and realize his dream and ambition and change the course of history. Of course, it is Herculean task, as he has to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons and US administration to be pragmatic and realistic and ink a deal acceptable to all parties. White House in a statement expressed the hope “that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula,” adding that Trump was looking forward to meeting Kim himself in coming weeks. Before the summit, Kim had already promised to end missile launches and dismantle his Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and then achieve the denuclearization goal and reunion of the North and South Korea. In March, South Korean delegation led by National Security Advisor Chung had extended invitation to US President Donald Trump on behalf of North Korean leader.
Of course, measures have to be taken to showcase change in the US policy known as ‘pivot to Asia’, which was unfolded in 2013 according stating that 60 percent of the navy’s fleet would be deployed to the Pacific by 2020; Singapore would house four new US Littoral Combat Ships designed to fight close to shorelines, while Indonesia wanted to buy a range of American hardware and take part in joint manoeuvres. The Philippines wanted to host more US troops and Australia had agreed to allow up to 2,500 Marine Corps soldiers to deploy to the northern city of Darwin. That had caused hard-liners within the Chinese establishment to view such an action as a strategy of regional containment or encirclement. After withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the US and its allies started focusing on Asia-Pacific to counter China’s rising influence.
Anyhow, South and North Korean leaders have realized, though belatedly, that both stand to gain from peace in the Peninsula. North Korea had earlier given overtures that it would like to have cordial relations with the South Korea. In 2007, in a highly symbolic gesture, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had walked some 30 meters across the heavily fortified border before returning to his motorcade to proceed to Pyongyang. But the US always throws spanner in the works. Eleven years ago, the south’s Roh Moo-hyun and the north’s Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, had signed an eight-point peace agreement. Those opposed to the peace between North and South Korea had raised doubts about the sincerity of Pyongyang’s outreach, and that North Korea’s goal could be to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea; but that was too far-fetched.
In the past, efforts were made to lessen the tension between the North Korea and the US. As early as 1994, the Clinton administration and North Korea had signed an Agreed Framework that froze Pyongyang’s nuclear program and aimed to normalise US-North Korean relations. Under the terms of the 1994 framework, North Korea agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for “the full normalisation of political and economic relations with the United States”. It was agreed that by 2003, a US-led consortium would build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea to compensate for the loss of nuclear power; and until then, the US would supply the north with 500,000 tons per year of heavy fuel; the US would lift sanctions, remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and normalise the political relationship, which was subject to the terms of the 1953 Korean War armistice.
However, no action was taken to formally end the Korean War by replacing the 1953 ceasefire with a peace treaty. In June 2000, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il had surprised the world with a rare foray into the international spotlight by going to the airport to personally greet South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, in emotional scenes broadcast live in the South. Hundreds of thousands of people, women wearing colorful traditional robes known as “hanbok” in the South and “joseon-ot” in the North, men in suits and ties, all waving red and pink paper flowers, lined the streets to give Kim Dae-jung a carefully stage-managed hero’s welcome. The desire for peace on the part of South Korea, especially when North Korea had given overtures of peace, was natural; and it had created conditions conducive to peace in the region. However, all initiatives in the past were sabotaged by the US.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.