POLICY ALERT- Asian Powers Reflect on 60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice
Last Sunday marked 60 years since the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The truce ended hostilities, but the underlining conflict along the 38th parallel remains unresolved today. As Pyongyang celebrated with a massive military parade, international observers reflected on the occasion. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Korea, China, Japan, and India on the war and its meaning for the Korean Peninsula today.
Editorials in South Korea overwhelmingly noted that while the armistice should be celebrated, current relations with North Korea remain tenuous at best:
- An editorial in the Joongang Daily remarked, “Commemorating the end of the war and pledging to not repeat such a tragedy is necessary and meaningful. At the same time, though, we should not forget the standoff still goes on…we haven’t finished the job yet.”
- Ra Jong-yil, national security advisor to former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, wrote anop-ed for China Daily where he laments that no one has taken responsibility for the Korean War, which “is still going on behind the scene in clandestine operations and in exchange of words.”
- Lee Chang-sup, executive managing director of The Korea Times, argued that the two Koreas are still “battling with the past. They have yet to agree on whether they are friends, foes, or strangers…Bringing up the past is justifiable when our intention is to learn from or discover previous wrongdoings. However, too much preoccupation with the past distracts us from realizing our future.”
- Song Ho-keun, professor of sociology at Seoul National University, wrote in the Joongang Dailythat even 60 years after the Armistice, “Korea’s fate hasn’t changed a bit.” He pointed to Japan’s 3/11 disaster and the subsequent rise of earthquake and disaster prevention research institutes in response to calls for improvement and preparedness. Questioning whether South Korea might be prepared for war with the DPRK, Song contrasted the Japan example with Korea, noting that the ROK “doesn’t have renowned war or peace research institutes.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was joined at the parade by Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao, the only notable outside representative to participate. Kim paid tribute to Chinese soldiers that died in defense of the North and commentary in China noted Beijing’s role as an intermediary in peace and denuclearization talks:
- Deng Yushan wrote in Xinhua that the “presence of a 60-year-old truce makes painfullyconspicuous the absence of real peace” where the “two Koreas” are still “haunted by the shadow of war” rather than “celebrating the birth of peace.” He counseled that China’s role as an “active mediator of dialogue” demonstrates Beijing is “committed to maintaining stability in and restoring peace to the region.
- Xinhua’s Yang Qingchuan asserted that while China and North Korea remain close, U.S.-China relations and South Korea-China ties have dramatically improved over the past 60 years since they were warring parties. The author also declared “China has been playing an active role in facilitating dialogue and promoting peace on the peninsula.”
- The Global Times editorialized that it is not worth second-guessing China’s decision to defend its long-time ally. The outcome of the war, which shaped “the strategic power structure of East Asia” and influenced China’s development today, is too engrained to change and leaders should focus on improving conditions on the peninsula.
Another media outlet pondered the status of Chinese veterans of the Korean War:
- The South China Morning Post, which produced a helpful infographic on the Korean War, contended that “some veterans feel they were duped” into joining the conflict and are “seeking answers about China’s involvement in the costly conflict.” An additional article focused on these veterans’ efforts for better retirement benefits.
Japanese editorials unanimously pointed out that “peace” has yet to be achieved on the Korean peninsula, and noted that impetus for change on the peninsula lies with Pyongyang:
- “The armistice is not a peace agreement; it is only a cessation of hostilities,” the Japan Timeswrote. “There is little Japan can do to influence the situation on the Korean Peninsula. But what it can do is refrain from acting in a manner that increases tensions and inflames sentiments…Japan should instead strive to oppose North Korea’s irresponsibility and demand that Pyongyang respect international rules and norms. Most importantly, Japan should stand with its partner South Korea…and back the Seoul government as it tries to forge a relationship with Pyongyang that will be the cornerstone of any enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula. Such a peace will be the best way to truly remember the Korean War.”
- Another Japan Times editorial added, “Pyongyang should keep in mind that unless there is denuclearization of North Korea, there will be no peace treaty…North Korea has the key to change the situation for the better.”
- An editorial in the Asahi Shimbun questioned the DPRK’s recent attempts to engage in dialogue, pointing to Pyongyang’s erratic behavior in the past. The editorial encouraged the opportunity for talks nonetheless, emphasizing “the two Koreas and all other countries concerned should not overlook the fact that an unstable situation of truce-not peace has continued for as long as 60 years.”
A commentator in India provided observations on the Korean War where the Indian army provided medical assistance to the United Nations Command:
- B. Muralidhar Reddy in The Hindu contrasted how parties were marking the anniversary: North Korea with a “celebration of ‘victory'” and South Korea with “a show of gratitude to the 16 countries [including India] which fought the war.”