By Jonathan Dela Cruz
Finally, a real opening for permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula is at hand. After seven decades of an uneasy truce marked by annual rites of angry exchanges (and shows of force on both sides) not only across the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas but by and among the contending parties’ allies across the globe, the screaming headlines the world has been waiting for finally got printed: “Korean war to end, new era for peace’.
Which is most welcome indeed. Now, it is up to the parties and their principal sponsors, the United States for the South and China for the North, to nurse this opening to its logical conclusion—reconciliation and reunification of the two Koreas with the signing of a permanent peace agreement ending the war and eventual denuclearization of the entire peninsula.
Once achieved, then the reality of an era of peace, unity and prosperity at least in the peninsula and East Asia will come to pass. It will not be easy.
As observers of the scene noted, the world has witnessed hopeful moments in this unfinished Korean drama many times before all of which ended up in flames. After the 1953 truce and armistice agreement was signed, almost every US President with the encouragement of Japan and its allies in the Asia-Pacific have tried to broker a permanent peace in the peninsula. Even at the height of the Cold War, there were efforts not only from the West but even China and Russia encouraging the leaders of both Koreas to get to the negotiating table and talk peace.
The latest such initiative kept then US Secretary of State John Kerry circling through the region and talking its leaders—especially China which has always been North Korea’s most reliable benefactor and which in the last two decades has been embarking on its own diplomatic road show—into getting going on Korea.
Well, Kerry and then-US President Barack Obama managed to wangle an agreement which at that time was also hailed as a breakthrough. The problem is, no sooner had the ink dried on the piece of paper, the newly installed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un went on a road show of his own, testing his country’s new nuclear weapons and issuing out all kinds of vitriol against the US and its allies.
An acidic climate of threats and counter threats ensued spoiling the Obama-endorsed “historic accord” and spilling over to the 2016 US presidential elections.
This same accord was assailed by then candidate Trump as a fraud, a pact which gave undue advantage to North Korea without any verifiable quid-pro-quo for the US and its allies. “All the time, Obama was played along”—this was how Trump described the agreement. That mind set persisted, leading the newly minted leader to insist that the accord be scrapped. More than that, he taunted Kim, calling him names (rocket man is the most graphic) and inundating him with all the insults his Twitter acount could issue.
Then, out of the blue, Trump positively responded to the advice coming from a South Korean delegation which visited North Korea before the Winter Olympics. “Rocket-man” was supposedly ready to meet with him and discuss with finality the denuclearization of the peninsula and the end of hostilities.
What followed was a series of feel-good offensives from the North which were reciprocated in kind by the South—participation in the Olympics, even fielding a joint Korean team in one of the games; visit of a South Korean rock band; Kim’s highly publicized trip to China where Chinese President Xi gave his blessings and encouraged the young leader to proceed with the initiative to finally bring peace to the region.
And then this symbolic and decidedly historic meeting of the leaders of the two Koreas in the demilitarized zone prior to the expected summit between the North Korean leader and President Trump. Now, the diplomatic dance is reaching a crescendo of expectations which needs to be properly nursed, as it were, to fruition.
The Panmunjom Declaration is no silver bullet. But, as the Korean leaders exchanged visits to their respective sides of the demilitarized zone (Kim Jong-un was the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil), it was clear that those baby steps could lead to bigger ones which, if properly taken, could lead to a safer, more peaceful and more prosperous world.
Which leads us to the title of this peace—war’s end. It’s not just an end to the Korean war, but an end to all the wars now raging across the globe: From the Syrian war to Afghanistan to the turmoils in Libya and pockets of Africa (Niger, South Sudan, Congo, to name a few), to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and even to the conflict in the West Philippine Sea. The WPS/South China Sea conundrum, as one observer noted—is what we all look forward to as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.
It is our hope that this latest peace initiative in Korea will prod all men of goodwill to accelerate all efforts to achieve the same before the middle of this century