No fake cease fire, please
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
After the summit between Presidents Moon Jae-in and Joe Biden at the White House last month, Korea-U.S. relations seem to have entered a honeymoon phase. President Moon accompanied the heads of four major business groups, who presented a 44-billion-won ($39.5-billion) investment package, and the Biden administration sent a 1.01 million doses of Janssen vaccines. What caught my attention the most was the joint statement by the two leaders emphasizing peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Picking on China’s most sensitive spot, it led to an immediate denouncement of the statement.
I find it unexpected as Moon has been constantly courting China’s favor. What has really happened? It was not just President Moon who turned to the U.S. side in the balancing diplomacy between America and China. His former boss and president Roh Moo-hyun did the same. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and dispatching troops to Iraq led to criticism from the liberals. Why did President Roh go so far despite criticisms that his administration deceived the people?
President Moon, who was a chief of staff for Roh, wrote in his autobiography, “Fate,” that Washington’s demands needed to be met somewhat in order to diplomatically resolve the North Korean nuclear threats. Mindset and logic tend to have inertia. The same logic must have been repeated this time too. Then what was the objective the Moon administration wants to pursue despite China’s fury? Considering its words and actions so far, it is likely to be the peace process on the Korean Peninsula — in other words, restarting inter-Korean exchanges.
There are reasons why the Moon administration is obsessed over it. Moon is devoted to improving inter-Korean ties, and that is also a card in strategic terms. The approval ratings for the president and the ruling party actually soared after two inter-Korean summits in 2018.
There are rumors that behind-the-scenes negotiation between North Korea and the U.S. for declaring the end of the Korean War is in progress.
Declaring an end to the war is a political action proclaiming that physical clashes between the two have ended and peace has settled. Unlike a peace declaration, it can be agreed in a few meetings and has no biding force legally.
Nevertheless, declaring the end of the war has a tremendous impact. Obviously, some will question why U.S. forces are needed in South Korea when peace has settled. Declaration of the end of the war seems to be an issue in Washington, too. At the Senate hearing on the nomination of General Paul LaCamera as commander of the U.S. Forces Korea on May 18, the declaration to end the war was brought up. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, said that since there has not been a discussion of a peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has been taking advantage of the current situation, saying war could start again at any time. The senator asked the commander what kind of problems are expected if the U.S. and South Korea declare they are not at war with North Korea and that they have no desire to be involved in hostilities with North Korea. General LaCamera responded that he didn’t think it would cause a problem with U.S. Forces Korea. A U.S. senator would not bring up the issue for no reason. It is a proof that the declaration is being discussed in Washington.
Although there is no armed clash, can you say peace has come to the peninsula? World renowned pacifist Johan Galtung says there are two types of peace — “passive peace,” where carnage has stopped yet a threat of war remains, and “active peace,” where peaceful exchange and true cooperation are made.
We don’t want a fake declaration that looks like peace. How can peace be mentioned when North Korea is armed with nuclear weapons and constantly threaten the South? It is wrong if the Moon administration attempts to use the declaration as a political strategy.