By Wang Junsheng
At the 76th session of the UN General Assembly this year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in once again reiterated his proposal for a declaration to formally end the war on the Korean Peninsula. As a key step in instituting the peninsular peace mechanism, the end-of-war declaration is nothing new and has been discussed many times. During the six rounds of four-party talks held among China, the US, DPRK and ROK from December 1997 to August 1999, a key objective was establishing a peace mechanism for the peninsula, and the September 19 Joint Statement reached at the Six-Party Talks in 2005 pointed out that “the directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum .”
Given the dramatic changes in the strategic environment on the Korean Peninsula, the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953 can no longer regulate the behaviors of relevant actors, and a new peace regime, including an end-of-war declaration, must be created. In the past year, relevant country on the peninsula has constantly test-fired strategic weapons like submarine-based missiles and cruise missiles, pushing the peninsula to the brink of an arms race.
China has taken an active part in the efforts to bring about the end-of-war declaration, which is a reasonable move according to international law, whose basic principles dictate that a multilateral agreement shall not be altered or terminated by an international document signed by only some of the contracting parties. A formal termination of the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 requires the presence and approval of all signatories. The agreement was jointly signed by the DPRK, China, ROK and the United Nations Command back then. Leaders of certain countries repeatedly claimed that the end-of-war declaration was more a political gesture than a legal document, but whatever it is, any document that intends to formally terminate it would need the approval from China, a signatory of the 1953 agreement.
On the other hand, it is known to all that China is a main participant in the Korean War with numerous soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteers devoting their lives to it. If China isn’t involved in the declaration of the formal end of the war, it would be theoretically wrong and emotionally and morally disrespectful for the Chinese martyrs fallen on the battlefield of the peninsula.
Should the end-of-war declaration be signed by leaders of three parties or four? I believe, in terms of both international law and common sense, it should be the four parties – DPRK, China, the US and ROK – negotiating the termination of the Korean Armistice Agreement and jointly pushing for the signing of a new peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula.
We should also see that the establishment of a peninsular peace regime, including an end-of-war declaration, is closely linked to the denuclearization of the peninsula as a piece of paper won’t be able to guarantee peace unless the peninsula’s denuclearization process makes some substantial progress. Therefore, the negotiation for the end-of-war declaration should be combined with denuclearization efforts. In other words, the declaration should be something more than just a symbol – it should be genuinely conducive to building mutual trust between DPRK and the US and advancing the denuclearization process on the peninsula.
During a virtual meeting in November with Noh Kyu-duk, the ROK's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese government’s special representative on Korean Peninsula affairs, said, as an important party of the peninsula affairs and a signing party of the Korean Armistice Agreement, China is willing to play a constructive role by maintaining communication with relevant parties on matters including the promotion of peace talks and the announcement of the end-of-war declaration. He reiterated China’s hope that relevant parties and the international community take more positive actions to contribute to the political settlement of the peninsula issues.
(The author is a senior researcher and director of the Department of China’s Regional and Global Strategy, National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
Editor's Note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.