Technically North and South Korea are still in a state of war. The cessation of hostilities in 1953 ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Now South Korea says it is considering how to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement. So the “eyes” of the world are currently on the Peace House in the village of Panmunjom, located in the heart of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. A neutral, so-called “truce town,” Panmunjom was the location of the armistice signing that ended fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War. Here a summit meeting between the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong In, and Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, commenced on Friday 27 April.
“As one of the plans we are looking at is a possibility of shifting the Korean peninsula’s armistice to a peace regime”, a high-ranking South Korean presidential official told reporters recently, “we want to include discussions to end hostile acts between North and South”.
US President Trump said (16 April 2018) that he backed efforts between North and South Korea.
Meantime efforts are being made to arrange an unprecedented meeting between the US and North Korean leaders and these efforts have already helped to ease tensions between the two countries, especially as North Korea has suspended missile tests, closed a missile launching site and closed a nuclear site in advance of the talks. This “concession” from North Korea prior to the commencement of talks could be interpreted as indicating serious intent on the part of the North Koreans for positive outcomes for the talks. The only “concession” on the South Korean/US side has been the cessation of the loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts from the demilitarised zone by South Korea. A serious “concession” would have been the dismantling of the US-installed THAAD Missile system in South Korea and indeed some military concessions from South Korea/US would surely be needed to pave the way for successful peace negotiations.
Peace activists will applaud the commencement of these talks and peace organisations such as IPAN ( the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) have consistently argued that such talks were the pathway for peaceful outcomes on the Korean peninsula, rather than the continuation of belligerent military threats from both sides. IPAN hopes that the United States will not interfere with positive outcomes from the North/South talks to formulate a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire of the 1950’s. However it is somewhat ominous that within a few days of these peace talks commencing, the United States suddenly appointed a prominent and hawkish naval commander, Admiral Harris, as its ambassadorial appointment to South Korea.
It is unfortunately significant that our Australian Government has chosen to remain quiet on the commencement of the talks between North and South Korea and between the US and North Korea. Is it waiting for a lead from the United States before commenting?Surely our government should be reflecting the desire of the Australian people to see moves towards peace in our region. Our government could also take the opportunity to seek to open a diplomatic mission in North Korea. Such a move would facilitate direct communication between Australia and North Korea to mutual benefit instead of Australia using the Swedish Embassy as a “back door” for communications with North Korea.
Bevan Ramsden is a peace activist and a NSW Representative on the coordinating committee of IPAN.