Less than forty eight hours after the collapse of talks between South and North Korea over the re-opening of the Kaesong industrial estate, seen as a ray of hope for a possible re-unification of the two countries, the two sides marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the devastating 1950-53 Korean War in total contrast.
For the North, which conducted its third nuclear test in February which alarmed the world, it was a celebration of ‘victory’. However, in the South it was a show of gratitude to the 16 countries which fought the war; five, including India, which sent medical teams and others that provided aid under the United Nations Command.
It was a caravan of festivities in the South Korean capital here with colourful banners on the streets greeting the visiting war veterans, political and official delegations. At a colourful function held at the War Memorial in the heart of the capital South Korean President Park Geun-hye said. “For the past 60 years, an uncertain peace that can be broken at any moment has been maintained…the war has been suspended and we are in the midst of the longest truce”.
Less than 200 km in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, it was heralded as an event of triumph, hailing the vision of three generations of leaders that gave it “victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War”.
The country leader Kim Jong-un was joined by China’s vice-president Li Yuanchao, the only notable representative from the world. The North Korean leader presided over the military parade where weapons including its mid-range missiles were displayed.
Peace, a priority
According to wire agencies, the North Korean leader did not speak on the occasion; Choe Ryong-hae, Mr. Kim Young-un’s main military aide and the chief political operative of the North’s 1.2 million-strong army, has been quoted as saying Pyongyang saw peace as a top national priority and its military was aimed at safeguarding North Korea from invasion. “Reality shows if peace is sought, there must be preparations for war. For us with our utmost task of building an economy and improving the lives of the people, a peaceful environment is greater than ever.”
The division of Korea into South Korea and North Korea is a fall out of the 1945 Allied victory in World War II, ending the Empire of Japan’s 35-year colonial rule of Korea. The U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily occupy the country as a trusteeship with the zone of control demarcated along the 38th parallel with the intention of establishing a Korean provisional government which would become “free and independent in due course”.
The two zones became a pawn in the game of U.S. and Soviet ideologies, giving birth to a Communist state under Soviet tutelage in the north and a pro-American state in the south. The two superpowers backed different leaders and two states were effectively established, each of which claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.
The conflict took a deadly turn after the North invaded South in June 1950, taking over 90 per cent of the territory that resulted in U.N.-sanctioned military intervention. China sided with the North and what ensued in the course of the next three years resulted in 1.2 million casualties.
On 27 July 1953, the commanders of North Korea, China and the U.S. signed the armistice, setting up a 150-mile border across the peninsula that is the world’s most heavily guarded frontier. Marginal improvements in relations between the two sides in the 2000s faded into insignificance thanks to bellicose posturing of the North, especially after every nuclear test.
And herein lies the significance of the talks on re-opening of the Kaesong Industrial Region (KIR), a special administrative industrial region of North Korea. It was shut down by the North Korean side in April after escalation of tensions between the North and the South.