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China seeks to play part in the peace regime talks

Oct 08,2007
The call to end the Korean War formally with a peace treaty and establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula may scramble the power balance in the region, and Beijing said over the weekend it wants to be included in the process.
However, building a peace regime threatens to be a long and complex process as even the number of nations that will be involved has not yet been decided. The inter-Korean agreement signed last week called for “three to four parties” to be involved in ending the Korean War, referring at a minimum to the two Koreas and the United States.
Asked by reporters whether Beijing considers itself as one of those parties, Ning Fukui, the Chinese ambassador to Seoul, said recently that China has to play an “active and constructive role” in the process.
Blue House spokesman Cheon Ho-seon, meanwhile, said over the weekend that whether Beijing would be involved in the process was “a matter of [North and South Korea’s] choice.”
Downplaying those comments, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said some issues that need to be discussed, such as disarmament measures, only require both Koreas and the United States, but that Beijing would be involved in the process as a whole.
Moon Chung-in, a professor at Yonsei University who accompanied President Roh Moo-hyun on his recent trip north, said the idea of a “peace regime” encompasses a wide range of measures that can ensure lasting peace on the peninsula.
“It may be a peace treaty, a non-aggression pact, a joint statement or a formal regional organization that guarantees the continuity of such documents. It’s really the sum of all these things,” he said.
With the end of the Roh administration in February, Seoul hopes to see things happen quickly. Song said the timing of any summit meeting to end the Korean War would depend on progress in the denuclearization of the North. Pyongyang has agreed to declare and disable its nuclear programs by the end of the year.
A foreign ministry official said, on condition of anonymity, that talks about a peace regime could happen as soon as this year if Pyongyang declares all of its nuclear programs and starts disabling facilities.
Referring to a possible summit meeting of the concerned parties to end the Korean War, Cheon said yesterday Seoul would “strive for one, but we will not speed up the process with the president’s term in mind.”
The concept of establishing a “peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula is closely linked with the ongoing nuclear talks.
The current six-party talks are focused on clamping down on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, when the nations struck a broad agreement in September of 2005 that has served as a backbone for other subsequent agreements, the following phrase was inserted: “The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.” Those “related parties” are both Koreas, the United States and China.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said since nobody knew how future negotiations would shape the signing of a peace treaty, the idea was to have a concept first while leaving details open. “The Korean Peninsula has seen relative peace, but tension has always been there,” the official said. “If there is to be a disarmament agreement, we need monitors.”
Roh talked about peace on the peninsula in his inaugural address, while North Korea has talked about such an agreement for decades.
In laying out his vision for a peaceful peninsula, Roh said in his inaugural address in February 2003 that the establishment of a peace regime was essential for the region. “We have to soon bring the day when passengers will be able to buy a train ticket in Busan and travel all the way to Paris, in the heart of Europe, via Pyongyang, Shinuiju and many other cities in China, Mongolia and Russia,” Roh said.
Seoul has opted to use momentum in the nuclear talks to jump-start talks regarding a peace regime. “Realizing a peace regime will not be established during this administration, Roh is trying to at least start the process,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean specialist at Dongguk University.
Washington has been more stringent in its conditions. The George W. Bush administration also hopes to achieve a diplomatic victory before the end of the term in January 2009.
President Bush first cited the idea of signing a peace treaty at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hanoi in November of last year, provided that North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs. In the aftermath of the inter-Korean summit last week, Washington issued its standard position that it supported inter-Korean dialogue but the ambitious undertaking of signing a peace treaty hinges upon progress in the nuclear talks.
For Pyongyang, the idea of a peace treaty has long been on its wish list, albeit for different reasons. In June 1962, the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South and a peace treaty between the two Koreas.
The logic was that with a peace treaty in place there would be no further need for a U.S. military presence. The now-deceased North Korean leader Kim Il Sung called for a peace treaty with the United States in 1973. The following year, the Supreme People’s Assembly made an official proposal to Washington. Since then, the idea has been brought up on numerous occasions, with Pyongyang sometimes demanding a non-aggression pact with the United States. In the North’s eyes, the Korean War was a battle to liberate the South. To underline that point, they insisted any negotiations on a peace treaty would have to be conducted directly between Washington and Pyongyang. This is also in line with the North’s long-held view that South Korea, not being a signatory of the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953, has no right to be part of any peace treaty.
Nevertheless, some scholars point out Pyongyang may have been holding on to old rhetoric, but is considering changes. “Officially, Pyongyang has not yet acknowledged South Korea as a legitimate partner in a peace treaty signing process, but the fact that it signed the September agreement, which includes references to a peace regime, was a silent nod,” said Kim Geun-sik, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.
Whatever the motives driving each party, the establishment of a peace regime will be another complex procedure. Once a peace treaty is in place, the next questions will be what to do with the United Nations Command and how that affects the status of the U.S. military on the Korean Peninsula. Foreign ministry officials said that whether signing a peace treaty comes first or the peace treaty is the result of a peace regime are issues that have not yet been decided.
Experts point out, however, that differences between the involved parties could become major obstacles.
“The United States wants to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue based on its alliance with Seoul, and the establishment of a peace regime would be the end result,” said Kim Sung-han, a professor of international relations at Korea University. “In the case of South Korea, it seems that the peace regime would come first. That is viewed as a method to solve the North Korea nuclear issue. The thinking is that once those two issues are resolved, the change in the South Korea-U.S. alliance will be automatically determined.”


By Brian Lee Staff Writer [africanu@joongang.co.kr]



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