SEOUL • Experts say declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War this year is not impossible, but the North's denuclearisation and China's involvement are potential stumbling blocks.
They were reacting to South Korean President Moon Jae-in's comments in an interview with The Straits Times before his three-day state visit to Singapore this week.
He had said that his administration aims to declare an end to the Korean War this year, which marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of an armistice.
Mr Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed at their April 27 summit to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and formally end the Korean War this year.
Experts say that declaring an end to the Korean War this year is not impossible, with South Korea's role in persuading both North Korea and the United States more important than ever.
"I think the US will make a decision in July, hold consultations in August and declare an end to the Korean War in September," said Mr Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
"It would be important to do so by the end of September because that is when both (US President Donald) Trump and Kim have to show some political achievements to appeal to a domestic audience," he said, referring to the founding day of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party in October and the US mid-term elections in November.
The Korean War was fought between South Korea and United Nations forces led by the US on one side, and the North helped by China on the other.
Bringing a formal end to the war, which ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty, is seen as the first step South Korea and the US could take to guarantee the North Korean regime's security as they continue to push forward in negotiations for the North's denuclearisation.
Still, there are obstacles that could complicate the prospect. In a sign of a possible shift in Washington's stance, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo baulked at a proposal by Pyongyang to discuss the declaration of an end to the Korean War during his visit to North Korea last week, according to the North's state-run media.
The US might have realised that declaring an end to the Korea War, which experts say is a political statement that is not legally binding and technically not difficult, is one of few remaining bargaining chips in negotiations with the North, said Professor Kim Hyun-wook of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
Mr Shin Beom-chul, senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the peace declaration would have to be preceded by progress in denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the US.
"The US will at least require North Korea to declare its nuclear weapons programmes," he said.
China, which has hinted at its willingness to engage in the process of ending the war and stressed its role in matters on the Korean peninsula, could also pose a challenge, Mr Shin pointed out.
"If China is involved, it will delay the process of declaring an end to the war. But if it wants to be involved but is excluded, China will try to delay the process by wielding influence over North Korea," he said.
KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK