In line with the 70th Armed Forces Day, President Moon Jae-in highlighted strong national defense and the alliance with the US on Monday, as the allies cooperate toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
“Now we have launched our ambitious journey toward lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. The path we are walking on is a path that no one has walked before, and so it is hard to predict what difficulties lie ahead. And therefore, strong defense is more important than ever,” the president said at a luncheon meeting with 200 war veterans and military officials, commemorating the day South Korean forces broke through the 38th parallel during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Top commanders of the US Forces Korea, including Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks, as well as first lady Kim Jung-sook attended the special meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae.
“The reason we were able to win concessions for an agreement in the military sector at the Pyongyang summit was because we had our military’s confidence in its defense of our nation,” Moon said at the meeting.
“Peace can last only when we have the strength and confidence to defend ourselves,” he added.
Moon’s remarks came within weeks of his latest summit with North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, where they renewed vows to work toward complete the denuclearization of the peninsula.
At the summit, the divided Koreas signed a new military agreement that Moon and other South Korean officials called a de facto nonaggression pact, under which the Koreas agreed never to use military force against each other under any circumstances.
The president stressed military reform and a stronger US-South Korean alliance as ways to build lasting peace on the peninsula.
“The driving force in making peace is a strong military. The force that supports a strong military is the people’s trust,” Moon said. “The military reform we are pushing for now is a move to prepare for a time of peace by becoming a stronger military that can effectively counter current and future threats.”
“As the commander in chief, I will not hold back any support to complete military reform,” he added.
“The South Korea-US alliance too is developing into a ‘great alliance’ that actively creates peace on the Korean Peninsula. The US Forces Korea will continue to carry out its mission as a defender of peace on the Korean Peninsula while also contributing to the stability and peace of Northeast Asia.”
Earlier in the day, South Korea officially took in the remains of 64 South Korean soldiers who did not make it home more than 65 years ago after fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War, in a sobering ceremony.
President Moon presided over the repatriation ceremony that kicked-off at 9:30 a.m. at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Sixty ranking military and government officials attended the ceremony.
Moon personally presented service medals over the South Korean flag-draped caskets during the event.
The remains arrived at Seoul Air Base on Sunday afternoon aboard a South Korea Air Force transport plane from Hawaii, escorted by F-15K and FA-50 fighter jets. Seoul’s Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk received the caskets in Hawaii on Friday from the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The remains were found during a 1996-2005 US-North Korea joint excavation project that searched key Korean War battle zones on North Korean soil, such as Changjin, South Hamgyong Province.
A result of the allies’ joint forensic identification on the remains of presumably Asian troops among those the North repatriated to the US from Aug. 22-Sept. 7 showed that the remains were of South Korean soldiers.
The South’s Defense Ministry’s Agency of Killed in Action Recovery & Identification plans to conduct the identification process, including DNA tests, to deliver them to their next of kin.
Following the removal of landmines later this year, the two Koreas plan to conduct a joint project to retrieve troop remains in the Demilitarized Zone from April 1 to Oct. 31, 2019.
So far, South Korea and the US have carried out forensic identification on remains recovered in the North in 2011, 2015 and this year.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org