North Korea

Bring lasting peace to North and South Korea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 3:41am

Sixty years ago today, the guns fell silent on the Korean peninsula. The loss of life and devastation after three years of war between the two Koreas, backed by China and Russia's predecessor the Soviet Union in the north and the US and its UN allies to the south, was appalling. As ceremonies are held and the millions of victims remembered, we are reminded that the fighting may be over, but there is still not yet peace. The nations that fought six decades ago still have bridge-building to do.

That is because the war technically is still not over. North Korea makes that plain through its nuclear and missile programmes and threats against its rivals, the US and South Korea. The armistice signed between the North, China and the UN this day in 1953 stopped the fighting, but its aim was only to attain a "complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved". Years later, there is no peace treaty, soldiers eye each other across the de facto Korean border, the demilitarised zone, and the possibility of fresh conflict remains real.

To Americans, the Korean war is the forgotten war, sandwiched between two longer and, for it, psychologically significant conflicts in Europe and the Pacific and Vietnam. But for North and South Korea, the wounds run deep, with families still divided by ideology and the barbed wire and landmines of the DMZ. Vice-President Li Yuanchao's presence at commemoration events in Pyongyang also makes clear China's involvement. By one count more than 180,000 Chinese soldiers died in the fight to protect borders and save North Korea.

China is North Korea's closest ally, but relations are not as strong as the US claims. Li is the highest-ranking official to visit since leader Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011, while Kim still has not made a trip across the border. Chinese dissatisfaction with the regime's arms proliferation and refusal to resume six-nation talks in Beijing is ever-rising; tension in the relationship is palpable. Peace on the peninsula is further complicated by Washington's rejection of Pyongyang's demand of bilateral negotiations and soured ties with Seoul.

The Beijing talks are still the best way forward. China and the US have equally important roles in getting the North to end its destabilising ways. The threat of conflict remains, but Northeast Asia is markedly different economically and geopolitically. A traumatic era is being reminded of today that has to serve as impetus to boost efforts to bring lasting peace once and for all.