In a major development in the Korean peace process, South Korea, North Korea, China and the United States have agreed to declare an end to the Korean War. The announcement was made by South Korean president Moon Jae-in on Monday, December 13, who said the four parties to the Korean War agreed “in-principle” to formally declare its end, 71 years after it broke out in 1950.
Speaking from Canberra, Australia, during his four-day visit to the country, president Moon Jae-in also pointed out that US hostility towards North Korea was among the reasons why peace talks were held back. North Korea has demanded an end to the “hostile policy” of the US, including sweeping sanctions and a virtual US-led blockade, as a precondition for the continuation of talks. The US insists on not having preconditions for the talks.
“And because of that, we are not able to sit down for a negotiation on the declarations between South and North Korea, and those between North Korea and the United States,” said president Moon Jae-in. “And we hope that talks will be initiated. We are making efforts towards that.”
While declaring an end to the Korean War would be a symbolic gesture as no large-scale armed confrontations among the warring parties have taken place since 1953 aside from sporadic clashes and skirmishes, president Moon Jae-in insisted that such a declaration was necessary for the stalled peace process to move forward.
“The end-of-war declaration itself is not an ultimate goal,” Moon Jae-in reportedly said. “On top of signifying the end of the unstable armistice regime that has continued for nearly 70 years, it can serve as momentum to restart talks between the South, North and the US.”
“This is going to help us start negotiations for denuclearization and peace … [in] the Korean peninsula,” he added.
This is not the first time that an agreement to formally end the Korean War was reached. In an inter-Korean summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and president Moon Jae-in in April 2018, the two sides released the Panmunjom Declaration, a ground-breaking bilateral agreement that included working towards a formal peace agreement for the Korean War.
A long-standing stalemate
The Korean War broke out in 1950 after the socialist government led by Kim Il-Sung invaded the southern half of Korea which was under the US-backed government of Syngman Rhee. This was following a series of anti-communist massacres estimated to have killed over 100,000 people. The US, backed by a controversial UN Security Council mandate, invaded Korea to repel the socialist forces and propped up the Rhee dictatorship.
The war ended in a stalemate in 1953 with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement between the United Nations command, largely led by the United States, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or North Korea) and China. The Republic of Korea (or South Korea) under Rhee refused to sign the armistice agreement in 1953 due to his aspiration to unite Korea by force.
Calls for a peace treaty were made as early as in 1954 by China and North Korea. But the US refusal, coupled with the anti-communist hostility of the Rhee dictatorship and the subsequent military dictatorships of the Third and Fourth republics, kept the War technically alive, impeding the peace processes in the Korean peninsula.
The latest peace talks that began in 2018, initiated by president Moon Jae-in, also ended in a stalemate in 2019 after a summit between former US president Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un failed to yield any results. Subsequent sanctions by the US further stalled the peace process despite significant progress made between the two Korean governments.