The Korean War is not over yet. An armistice was signed in 1953, but for nearly seven decades, no treaty has been concluded to formally end the war.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the simultaneous admission of South Korea and North Korea to the United Nations.
Following many frustrating efforts in the past, new ways should be explored to end the war.
The issue raises complicated questions of how it should be linked to the current North Korean situation and how to establish stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Efforts should be based on a long-term strategy with clearly defined steps toward the goal.
The South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in has proposed issuing a declaration of the end of the Korean War at an early date.
Seoul has tried to sell the idea to the United States, its ally, and Japan by claiming such a declaration would help persuade North Korea to reopen dialogue with South Korea and other countries.
Japan and the United States both remain skeptical about the proposal. Indeed, there is no guarantee that an end-of-war declaration will extract positive changes from Pyongyang.
Typically, a war formally ends when a truce leads to a peace treaty. An end-of-war declaration, which is a step before a peace treaty, would be little more than an informal political message.
Although a declaration could be a means to attract North Korea’s attention without giving the regime a substantial reward, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul need to reach a consensus after carefully considering when and how it should be used.
The U.S. administration considered an end-of-war declaration before the first summit between the United States and North Korea three years ago.
But the Trump administration dropped the idea reportedly because Pyongyang was not as enthusiastic about such a declaration as Seoul believed.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un referred to an end-of-war declaration in his speech in September but set certain conditions for taking the step, including an end to Washington’s hostile policy toward his country.
That means there has been no significant change in North Korea’s stance toward this issue.
Moon is apparently loath to see any spike in regional tensions before the South Korean presidential election next spring while being keen to create a legacy for his presidency.
But he should not make any rash move to entice Kim back to the negotiating table.
Moon should seek coordinated efforts with Japan and the United States from a long-term perspective without allowing himself to be pressured into action during the short period until the end of his term.
The Japanese government is opposed to the proposal out of concerns that North Korea, which recently launched missiles, could ratchet up its demands, including the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.
However, Tokyo has no alternative plan. The proposed declaration would not necessarily serve North Korea’s interest. Japan should adopt a diplomatic strategy that combines both hard and soft approaches.
The government should not forget the lessons from the hard-line North Korea policy consistently adopted by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which failed to produce any meaningful results.
The U.S. government appears to remain cautious about moving swiftly toward an end-of-war declaration while giving consideration to Seoul’s perspectives.
One recent opportunity for the three countries to coordinate their plans on dealing with North Korea was a trilateral vice-ministerial meeting held in Washington.
But the planned three-way news conference was canceled because Japan pulled out of the event to protest the recent visit by South Korea’s top police official to the Takeshima islands in the Sea of Japan, claimed both by Tokyo and Seoul.
South Korea’s thoughtless action, which disregarded the damage to bilateral ties, should be criticized.
But Japan’s decision to throw away an opportunity to show a three-country united front cannot be described as prudent.
Any crack in the cooperative framework among the three countries only serves North Korea’s interest.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22