By Katsuhiro Asagiri
TOKYO (IDN) – Nearly 66 years have passed since the Armistice Agreement formally brought about “a complete cessation of hostilities” of the Korean War. One year later, Chinese Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai proposed a peace treaty. But U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, refused – leaving a final peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula hanging in the air.
The signed Armistice established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the de facto new border between the two nations, put into force a cease-fire, and finalized repatriation of prisoners of war. The DMZ runs close to the 38th parallel and has separated North and South Korea since the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
A Peace Treaty was not high on the agenda of the first summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018 in Singapore. Nor is it likely to have the pride of place when Trump and Kim meet for the second time on February 27-28 in Hanoi.
In run-up to the Hanoi Summit, a colloquium in Tokyo has explored the prospects of ‘Building Stable Peace on the Korean Peninsula: Turning the Armistice into a Permanent Peace Agreement’.
Organized by the Toda Peace Institute and the National Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand, the colloquium heard South Korean, U.S., Chinese, Russian, and Japanese perspectives on the pros and cons of a peace declaration between North and South Korea and the modalities for moving from that to a permanent peace agreement to replace the Armistice Agreement.
But as the five different perspectives revealed, it is going to be an uphill task to usher in an era of stable peace on the Korean Peninsula. Both the U.S. and North Korea do not agree in detail on what denuclearization of the Peninsula implies in practice. Also the national and foreign policy interests of each of the five countries – South Korea, USA, China, Russia and Japan – do not seem to synchronize with each other.
Against this backdrop, what the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year speech assumes particular importance. He called for “multiparty negotiations” aimed at replacing the armistice with a formal peace treaty.
This came close to the emphasis placed by Chung-in Moon, special advisor for foreign affairs and national security to the South Korean (Republic of South Korea – ROK) President, on the need for confidence-building among states involved and address the nuclear issue. He declared that agreements matter only when they are implemented. In fact, he proposed a summit meeting of all Asian countries involved and the United States.
Joseph Y. Yun, a former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, was convinced that North Korea will not denuclearize itself without obtaining any special guarantees from the U.S. “Theirs is a nuclear programme they have suffered to build” over the years, he noted. Yun pleaded for a “systematic approach” to a peace agreement , dismantling of nuclear weapons and verification
Yang Xiyu, Senior Fellow at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), warned against over-interpreting developments on the Peninsula. What appeared to be positive developments in 1991 and 1992 and between 1994 and 2002, when North Korea and the U.S. negotiated on 21 issues, reached an agreement on 17, he said, was followed by a crisis.
Nevertheless, there is a whiff of “historical opportunities” in view of three inter-Korean summits and one summit each between North Korea and the U.S. and North Korea and China in 2018. In 2019 there will be one North Korea-U.S. summit and more than one summit each between North Korea and China, and the inter-Korean summit.
What makes things rather convoluted, noted Yang, is that for North Korea the priority issue is a peace treaty, but for the U.S. it is denuclearization. He also stressed the need for removing “totally the structure of the balance of power as the base for peace”.
Georgy Toloraya, the Director of Korean Programs at the Institute of Economy at the Russian Academy of Science, and Executive Director of Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, pleaded for “balance of interests”.
He recalled the two-pronged Russian proposal in 2018: Freeze for Freeze, implying suspension of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises on the one hand and holdup of nuclear tests by North Korea on the other; and, secondly, bilateral negotiations leading to a “bulk of agreements and arrangements” between the two Koreas.
Toloraya said the 1953 Armistice Agreement – signed by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison Jr. of the United Nations Command Delegation and North Korean Gen. Nam Il, who also represented China – could not be a basis of a Peace Regime, as suggested by the theme of the colloquium. South Korea did not sign it. Its sole purpose was to stop fighting and some technical issue of exchanging prisoners etc. It stated that in three months, they should hold a conference to settle political issues. The conference failed.
“We should build peace based on the system in Korean Peninsula and of course involve not only two Koreas but also the U.S. and China as well as Japan and Russia, and the international community because this is a global issue,” said Toloraya. “It is not about bilateral nor regional but the global issue of nuclear proliferation and love of peace.”
Some kind of a legal base for a peace regime should be created, he added, for example through a multilateral declaration “or treaty or something like a 6 party summit for North East Asia” – perhaps by way of declarations by six foreign ministers to start the process, for example, on the side lines of the UN General Assembly in September.
In Toloraya’s view a multilateral process is essential – through a multilateral agreement or a set of legally binding bilateral agreements between warring parties. What is important in his view is that there should be some kind of a mechanism to monitor how they implement their obligations.
Eventually it might develop into “a nucleus of regional cooperation and security system” that spans the Korean Peninsula and neighboring states. “I do not know whether North Korea would become an economic rocket as President Trump put it but surely this country has a good potential,” the Russian expert said.
Lieutenant Noboru Yamaguchi (Retd.), a professor at the International University of Japan, pointed to perception gaps and diverse priorities among parties involved. But resort to nuclear weapons or proliferation of nuclear technology by North Korea are for sure menacing scenarios, he said.
Furthermore, if North Korea is accepted as a nuclear state, it will have a negative impact on the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) regime, which it abandoned in 2003. It will be viewed as an incentive for other countries to go nuclear.
If “100 plus” countries discover that North Korea, a country whose GDP capita is 1/20th of that of South Korea, can negotiate with the U.S. on an equal footing, and get rewarded for acquiring a nuclear warhead that reaches the U.S., it will be a goad to non-nuclear states to go nuclear. “That should be prevented,” he added.
Explaining differences in threat perceptions, Yamaguchi said, while Japan views a medium-range missile as perilous, for South Korea, short-range missiles or even artillery pieces are menacing enough. On the other hand, the U.S. may perceive an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a most critical issue, and that could trigger an all-round war.
But it is necessary to look beyond divergent threat perceptions, said Yamaguchi, and be ready for the future if things go in the right direction. For example, if North Korea embraces the perfect scenario of denuclearization in a peaceful way, Japan and other countries should be ready to give technological and financial incentives for that country’s economic growth. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 February 2019]
Photo (from left to right): Noboru Yamaguchi (Japan); Yang Xiyu (China), Chung-in Moon (South Korea), Kevin Clements (Coordinator: Toda Institute), Joseph Yun (USA), Georgy Toloraya (Russia). Credit: Yukie Asagiri, IDN | INPS
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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