While tensions between North and South Korea remain acute, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister in Atlanta Nov. 19 cited the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two countries as an important stepping stone to a lasting peace between them.
Ambassador Chang Jae-bok’s address to a luncheon of the Atlanta Council on International Relations at the Piedmont Driving Club underscored the advances already made in removing guard posts that each country maintained in the zone and the area’s potential as a tourist attraction even though an outbreak of African swine flu has placed part of it on quarantine.
Mr. Chang promoted South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s peace initiatives as a means of persuading North Korean leader Kim Jung Un “to cooperate and engage in a joint effort for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.”
But he didn’t shy away from calling for North Korea to take steps to denuclearize its military capabilities and encouraged active support for a mutual security guarantee.
The 160-mile long and 2.5-mile wide DMZ was established in 1953 by the Korean War Armistice Agreement, which is not considered to be a peace treaty resulting in the two Koreas ostensibly still being at war.
Despite its purpose of acting as a buffer zone to prevent incidents that might lead to renewed hostilities, sporadic outbreaks of violence have killed more than 500 South Korean soldiers, 50 U.S. soldiers and 250 North Korean soldiers along the DMZ since 1953.
“We want to transform the demilitarized zone into an international peace zone. It has been untouched for 70 years and now is an ecological treasure,” he said. To ensure this status he added that both North and South Korea should invite UNESCO to establish offices on the zone to help preserve its ecological riches.
Mr. Chang underscored that “trust is gradually being built” and pointed to the recovery of remains of 200 U.S. and French soldiers and the efforts to begin removing mines that were placed throughout the zone as “the first of many steps” to a state of “peace and trust.” He also said that he would like a railroad to be built between the two countries as a further means of building trustworthy relations.
Such tentative steps towards peace, he said, have brought to the fore the kind of peace that can be envisioned. He said his government is not interested in a temporary peace, but wants to experience permanent peace.
“We are technically still at war,” he said. “We continue to live our lives. We fear the threat in our current situation.” adding that South Korea did not seek the collapse of North Korea. “We don’t want an uneasy peace but lasting peace that should only occur naturally” and that can be reached “through dialogue, various exchanges and cooperation in diverse areas.”
Such a permanent peace, he added, would be of an economic benefit to all of Northeast Asia, including China, Japan, Russia and Mongolia in addition to the Korean peninsula.
During time allotted for questions and answers following his address, he was asked about Japan’s current relations with South Korea. He immediately responded that it is difficult to predict when a pending trilateral military information sharing agreement among the U.S., Japan and South Korea would be renewed, citing antagonism between Japan and South Korea. “It doesn’t look good,” he added, due to historical antagonism between the two and current export controls imposed by Japan. But he thought a compromise eventually would be reached.
Members of the Atlanta chapter of the National Unification Advisory Council, asked what could Korean-Americans living in Georgia do to help the DMZ initiative. Mr. Chang recommended that they organize visits to the zone through Atlanta’s Consulate General.