Editor's Note

China, one of the parties involved in the Korean War Armistice Agreement of 1953, has shown considerable interest in President Moon’s end-of-war declaration. In this commentary, Dr. Jongho Shin, research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, analyzes China's current position, explains any potential changes regarding the declaration, and suggests ways to bring in China to support and cooperate on the declaration. China stated that, in principle, it agrees to the end-of-war declaration and has reinforced its role as a supporter. Dr. Shin offers two reasons as to why China would be interested in taking a more active stance on this matter. The author further explains two issues that require coordination between South Korea and China in resolving differences in opinion in order to realize sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula through an end-of-war declaration.

At the 76th UN General Assembly in September 2021, President Moon Jae-in proposed an end-of-war declaration in his keynote speech. Since then, the South Korean government has been working to garner support and cooperation from concerned parties concerned such as North Korea, the United States, and China. However, given that they all take different stances on the matter, it seems that the implementation of an end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula will require a considerable amount of time. In particular, China, which is known to have had constant influence over North Korea, has consistently reiterated that it, in principle, agrees to the end-of-war declaration. It has recently expressed that it sees the declaration with more positivity during high-level talks between South Korea and China. This paper analyzes China's current position, explains any potential changes regarding the declaration, and suggests ways to bring in China to support and cooperate on the declaration.


China’s Stance on the End-of-war Declaration


China has expressed its principle that it would be actively involved in building peace on the Korean Peninsula as a party to the armistice agreement. When the “three-party or four-party declaration” declaration was brought up in the Panmunjom Declaration, agreed upon in the inter-Korean summit in April 2018, Beijing did not directly mention the declaration. Instead, China stressed that the so-called “dual-track approach (双轨并行),” which simultaneously promoted the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of a peace regime, could effectively resolve issues on the Korean Peninsula. A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed that China, as an interested stakeholder in issues on the Korean Peninsula, supported any efforts to end the state of war as soon as possible.


It was not until after the 2018 U.S.-DPRK Summit in Singapore that the Chinese government officially revealed its position on the end-of-war declaration. In August 2018, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who attended the ASEAN Regional Forum, officially stated for the first time that the declaration was fully suited to trends in the development of the current era. Wang emphasized that no country in the world wants a war like that ever reoccur. However, as the end-of-war declaration lost its momentum after the 2019 'no-deal' summit in Hanoi, China did not show any noticeable changes in its position.


After President Moon Jae-in mentioned the declaration at the UN General Assembly in September 2019 and 2020, China has reinforced its principles and therefore will maintain its 'role as a party', 'bring a political resolution to issues on the Korean Peninsula and ‘put an end to the war on the Korean Peninsula via a dual-track approach.' Even after President Moon once again emphasized the end-of-war declaration in September of 2021, China still repeated its original principle as a supporter. Then, on September 22 this year, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China emphasized that China, as a party to the Korean War Armistice Agreement, will continue to play a part in ending the state of war on the Korean Peninsula and in the transitioning process to a peace regime.


Possibility of China Veering into an Active Stance


On December 2, 2021, a meeting between South Korean National Security Office Director Suh Hoon and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi took place in Tianjin. It has been reported that Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stated that China supported the end-of-war declaration. Although there was no press coverage of this published by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Korea stated that China expressed its support for the declaration. From this point of view, while emphasizing that it must participate as a related party in the process of pursuing the declaration, China seems to perceive that such a declaration is premature since many problems remain unsolved.


However, due to recent changes in the political landscape of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, there is a possibility that China will take a more active role than it has prior done while still maintaining its original principle. There are two main reasons for this.


The first reason is that China seeks to bring Korea into its sphere of influence, amid the intensification of U.S.-China strategic competition. As South Korea and U.S. authorities have been in coordination on what to include in the end-of-war declaration and reached a general agreement, China, despite its public referral of Korea as a 'weak link' in the U.S. alliance strategy, has been trying actively engage with South Korea.


Furthermore, in its aim to promote regional peace and stability, China seems to have been more actively engaged in the end-of-war-declaration in order to resolve the so-called “Olympics risk” prior to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Following the recent U.S.-China video summit in November, the U.S. has suggested the possibility of a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Similarly, the U.K., Canada, and other allies have pledged to do the same. In response, China has invited President Vladimir Putin to the Olympics. China will try to entice South Korea to support the Olympics by more actively and openly expressing its approval of the declaration.


Prospects for South Korea-China Cooperation


In order to realize sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula through an end-of-war declaration, it is important to gain active support from key parties, including North Korea and the United States. However, it is also necessary to consider ways to cooperate with China at the same time. To this end, resolving differences in opinion on the following two issues is fundamental.


First, it is necessary to send a consistent message regarding the subject of the end-of-war declaration – whether it be a three-party or a four-party declaration. The South Korean government has used both ‘three-party” and “four-party” referring to the declaration and has occasionally used “concerned party” or “four-party end-of-war declaration.” At the time of the ‘Spring of Peace on the Korean Peninsula’ in 2018, there undeniably was an atmosphere in which South Korea had to push for a three-party end-of-war declaration including South Korea, North Korea, and the United States. However, given the situation in 2021, the atmosphere is not as favorable for the pursuit of the end-of-war declaration as it had been in 2018. Therefore, in order to garner cooperation from China, whose stance aligns with that of North Korea, it is necessary to continuously send a message that Beijing will not be excluded from the declaration.


Next, it is necessary to make efforts to narrow differences or gaps between South Korea and China regarding their positions on the nature and content of the end-of-war declaration. Regarding the nature of the declaration, Seoul has consistently asserted that it is a non-legally binding political declaration and will therefore not affect the presence of the United Nations Command and the U.S. Forces Korea; this has also been confirmed in consultations with the U.S. However, given that Pyongyang and Beijing are likely to provide a different point of view, it is important to share principles that can be applied to all of the parties concerned such as the initiative of building peace on the Korean Peninsula along with efforts to persuade North Korea.


As such, it does not seem easy to bring China to cooperate in the short term. Despite South Korea’s efforts, it is unlikely that the Beijing Winter Olympics would open a window for the issuance of the declaration. The Chinese government, which aims to utilize the Olympics for its own development and stability, will not want to lose the spotlight to the end-of-war declaration. Uncertainties regarding coordination with North Korea and the 'diplomatic boycott' from the West including the U.S. are additional factors that are likely to affect the declaration. Therefore, rather than directly using the Beijing Winter Olympics as a stage for the end-of-war declaration, it is necessary to focus on holding an ROK-China or an inter-Korean video summit before and after the Beijing Winter Olympics. It is important to focus on resuming dialogue among the related countries and create an atmosphere for peace in the region by proposing measures such as the suspension of military training.■



DR. Shin Jongho is a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) and is serving as a adjunct professor at Hanyang University, a standing member of the National Unification Advisory Council, and a member of the Unification Education Committee at the Ministry of Unification. His key research areas include U.S.-China relations, South Korea-China relations, North Korea-China relations, and Inter-Korean relations. His major published works include “U.S.-China Strategic Competition and South Korea’s Options: Historical Case Studies”(2021), “What are the Small Power’s Options facing Great Power Rivalries? Historical Case Studies”(2020), “The Change of U.S.-China Relations in the Era of the New Normal and South Korea’s Strategy on North Korea and Unification”(2019), “The Second Xi Jinping Administration and Implications on China’s Foreign Policy”(2018), “The 2030 Scenarios of the U.S.-China relations and Implications on the Korean Peninsula”(2018), “China’s Great Power Identity and Its Policy on the Korean Peninsula in the Xi Jinping Era” (2018).



Typeset by Seung Yeon Lee | Research Associate
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