South Korea and the United States on Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to defending “the hard-fought peace” on the divided peninsula as the allies marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
Communist North Korea invaded the US-backed South on June 25, 1950, triggering a three-year war that killed millions.
The fighting ended with an armistice that has never been replaced by a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the two Koreas still technically at war.
“On this day in 1950, the US-ROK military alliance was born of necessity and forged in blood,” the US secretary of defence Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo said in a joint statement, using the acronym for the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.
The two paid tribute to the “sacrifice, bravery, and legacy of those who laid down their lives in defence of a free, democratic and prosperous” South, the statement read.
Seoul’s defence ministry puts the conflict’s military fatalities at 520,000 North Koreans, 137,000 South Korean troops and 37,000 Americans.
Seoul’s relationship with Washington has been strained in recent years by the Trump administration’s demands that it pay more towards the cost of keeping 28,500 US troops on the peninsula to protect the South from its nuclear-armed neighbour.
But the allies “remain firmly committed to defending the hard-fought peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement added.
The anniversary comes with inter-Korean ties uncertain.
A rapid rapprochement in 2018 that brought three summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in has hardened with Pyonygang disappointed at the South’s inability to deliver on its promises and get the US to agree to sanctions relaxation.
An escalation of tension that began when the North raised tensions by demolishing the two countries’ joint liaison office on its side of the border eased on Wednesday after Kim suspended plans for military moves aimed at the South.
Recent events showed that inter-Korean relations “can turn into a house of cards at any time”, the South’s JoongAng Daily said in an editorial on Thursday on the anniversary.
The South Korean government has “persistently turned a blind eye” to Pyongyang’s provocations, it said, resulting in a “slackening sense of security”.
“There is no free ride in keeping peace,” the editorial read, adding: “We hope the government and defence ministry deeply reflect on the lesson of 70 years ago.”