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Opening Address - International Consultation on Peace, Reconciliation, Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

21 October 2009

Towards an Ecumenical Vision Beyond the Tozanso Process

Hong Kong, 21-23 October 2009

Opening Address

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary
World Council of Churches

It is with great pleasure and privilege that I stand before you today at the opening of this historic event. Twenty-five years ago the World Council of Churches organized an international ecumenical consultation on “Peace and Justice in North East Asia: Prospects for Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts”, which was held in Tozanso, Japan from 29 October to 2 November 1984. Subsequently, the Tozanso event of 1984 became a milestone in ecumenical history, especially in the history of the Korean churches' struggle for peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Today, after a quarter of a century, we have gathered here in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, and a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, to commemorate the 1984 Tozanso initiative and also to look forward to the future with a new vision.

I am particularly happy to note that several participants who were at the Tozanso consultation in 1984 are present here today. Among them I see at least three former staff members of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC who were responsible for organizing the 1984 Tozanso consultation. We thank God for all those who have contributed to the Tozanso initiative over the years. We also need to remember several others who had contributed to the Tozanso process during the past decades, but have gone before us.

The ecumenical movement has accompanied the Korean churches consistently in their efforts in the promotion of peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula for more than 25 years. The Korean churches also have been consistently active in their struggle for peace with justice.

The world has changed or transformed quite a lot over the past 25 years, especially since the end of the Cold War. The old system is gone. Various changes have been visible at different levels in world politics, especially in international relations, over the years. For example, the end of an era of bipolarity, a new wave of democratization, increasing globalization of information and economic power, more frequent efforts at international coordination of security policies, etc., have contributed to such changes. Although these changes have transformed the world, today’s world is replete with many other fundamental challenges. These challenges include the increasing trends of organized violence; sub-national ethnic and religious conflicts; the continued presence of contested borders between militarily potent states; and also, to a certain extent, the remnants of the Cold War ideology and rivalry. One can say that the end of the Cold War was the result of a variety of factors: force and diplomacy; pressure tactics and détente; belief and disbelief in communism; civil resistance; struggle for democratization and human rights; both nuclear deterrence and the ideas of some of its critics; both threat and reassurance. Besides all these arguments or interpretations, since the end of the Cold War, other simplistic interpretations of how it ended have also contributed to the perceptions of an emerging international order. The plurality of perspectives has endured in post-Cold War international politics.

International politics that is defined as “politics in relationship between nations” is a process of adjustment of relationships among nations in favour of a nation or group of nations by means of power. International politics involves conflict as well as cooperation. The accommodation of views on conflict and cooperation has found a space in international politics since the end of the Cold War. War and peace represent the extremes of a recurrent means of social interactions such as conflicts and harmony. But conflict occupies a more prominent place in international politics. The fact is that the basis of cooperation itself is the result of conflict. This happens in two ways: first, nations with identical or harmonious interests cooperate with each other in order to win a conflict with other nations. Second, cooperation is sought only because of international relationships which are inherently conflictual. Conflicts arise from incompatibility of interests and also when nations try to protect their interests by trying to influence and control the behaviour of other nations. In other words, national interests are served through foreign policies, thus nations interact with each other through foreign policies. The Korean peninsula has been a classical example of this cooperation, whether it was during the Cold War period or after that. The confrontations on the Korean peninsula form alliances and cooperation in favour of both sides. At the same time, cooperation takes place at the multilateral levels in which all parties concerned need to meet together to settle the problem amicably. Interactions between nations are needed today more than ever before in human history. The geopolitical situation is more complex and the entire earth is divided and polarized. Such situations as found in a polarized world need more effective ways and means of interaction today than ever before. In a dramatically changing international political context and conflict affected situations, such efforts will have to ensure peace and security. In the context of Korean peninsula, such efforts are more important to accomplish the ultimate goal of reunification of the Korean peninsula.

Although the end of the Cold War contributed cataclysmal changes in world politics and international relations, those changes have not introduced substantial changes in easing tensions in the North East Asia region, where the remnants of the Cold War still prevail as a pervasive phenomenon. As we are still confronting a tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, we still discuss the same issues that had been discussed over the past 25 years: issues such as security, militarization, division, peace, reconciliation and ultimately the reunification of the Korean peninsula. In spite of many positive changes which have taken place in the post Cold War era, this particular geographical region still faces the world’s heaviest concentration of military and security threat. The world’s four nuclear weapons states are directly involved in this region. This makes a situation in North East Asia a volatile region. This was a region which was more involved in Cold War politics than any other region or sub-region. Today, in this region, we are witnessing a situation where the Cold War turned into a “hot war”. Despite the end of the Cold War and the superpower rivalry of the old era, the North East Asia region is still notable because of continuing Cold War alliances linking the two Koreas, Japan, China, and the United States. This is also the region where the world’s three largest economies on a purchasing power parity basis (the United States, China, and Japan), and Asia’s three largest economies (Japan, China, and South Korea) are located. Japan, China, and South Korea alone account for about 25 percent of the world gross domestic product (GDP). This region is home to the world’s four largest holders of foreign exchange reserves. Japan remains the world’s second largest financial contributor to the United Nations and its associated specialized agencies. Three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who are also three of the five “original” nuclear weapons states, are located in this region. The strategic reality and the “geopolitical map” of North East Asia are based on factors such as balance of power and trends of power shift. In any situation, the relative “power” of a nation is determined by its economic strength, size of population and military strength. The three major powers constituting possible “power poles” - China, Japan, and Russia are active in the region. The influence and presence of the United States in this region is also quite substantial, although it is located geographically apart. A statement made by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at an Asian Regional Forum meeting held in July this year in Thailand testifies to this reality. In her statement, she said, “North Korea has no friends to protect it from international efforts to end its nuclear programme”, and “there was widespread agreement that North Korea could not be allowed to maintain nuclear weapons”. This shows the strategic interests of major powers, irrespective of their geographical location, still active in power games in the North East Asia region.

These factors indicate that the politics of peace and reconciliation is still very much attached to the international power struggle and strategic interests of certain countries other than both Koreas. The change in global politics has not changed the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula. Peace, security and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula continue to be a major concern as the international climate has still not brought a congenial atmosphere for Korean reunification. The unpredictability of the reunification of Korea still remains. At the end of the Cold War and in the aftermath of German reunification, there was a general perception that the time for a united Korea was imminent. Yet twenty years after the German reunification, the internal politics of the two Koreas are still irreconcilable. However, it has been an encouraging factor that a new thinking contrary to the earlier hard line policies of South Korean leaders emerged. The new generation of South Korean leaders have attempted to change or move away from the old perceptions and move beyond the Cold War era politics of rivalry. The most visible expression of such movement was evident during the regime of the late President Kim Dae Jung. The South Korean leaders came forward to address the issues by dealing with their northern neighbour within a post-Cold War framework based on nationalism and shared ethnic ties and cultural values. They upheld the aspirations of the majority of the Korean people to seek the realization of the long-held dream of Korean reunification. In other words, they conveyed the message that they wanted to move in the direction of a concept, “from confrontation to community”. A shift in hard line policies and willingness to move away from confrontation with North Korea should be the ultimate goal towards reconciling the bonds of community that were torn apart during the Korean War and in the following years of the Cold War. I am sure, the aspirations and willingness of the Korean people to move beyond the Cold War era will rewrite the history of the Korean peninsula. Over the years it has been proven that the policy of confrontation and isolation of the DPRK has not borne fruit. It has succeeded only in raising more tension in the region. In this context, the only viable alternative to reduce confrontation and isolation is constructive engagement and dialogue at both bilateral and multilateral levels. The ecumenical movement also has a major role to play in this direction.

The Tozanso consultation organized by the CCIA of the WCC in 1984 was held in a most difficult time for Korean churches to discuss openly the issue of Korean reunification. When WCC's active engagement in the Korean peace and reunification process began in the 1980s, South Korea was under a military dictatorship and was experiencing rampant human rights violations. Due to the Cold War, the Korean peninsula was in the grip of militarization and the arms race. There were deliberate and systematic efforts to create enemy images which demonized the other. Any discussion of reunification at that time was considered an offence to Korean society. The National Security Law was used to suppress people's movement and their aspirations for justice, peace and reunification on the pretext of safeguarding national security. Some participants invited to Tozanso failed to turn up because of fear of the consequences they would have to face under the draconian National Security Law. The Tozanso consultation was the first attempt by the WCC to bring together Christians from a wide spectrum of member churches worldwide with Christians from Korea, to look at some of the issues raised by the division of the Korean peninsula. The consultation reaffirmed the WCC's longstanding principle of engagement and dialogue to overcome violence and war. It outlined a new vision for WCC's active engagement in the Korean peninsula and the need for dialogue to overcome violence and war. The WCC initiative helped to address the issue of the division of Korea and Korean reunification as a way to strengthen the struggle for peace with justice by the Korean people. It also addressed the issue of tensions between security perceptions of states, human security and human dignity. The consultation affirmed that, “The churches are called to provide hope, to witness for peace, justice and unity. They must become a model of dialogue and participation for all who have been affected by the tragedy of division. Christians must surround one another in love, supporting one another in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

The historic gathering of 1984 at Tozanso identified key areas where churches needed to work. Subsequent to the Tozanso consultation, the WCC made a pledge to continue to work in the spirit of the Tozanso process to facilitate contacts and to act as a channel of communication between the Christian communities of North and South Korea. The consultation also created and facilitated an ecumenical network for peace and reconciliation. The role of facilitation continued up to the time when the two sides were able to communicate directly with each other. The Council also called on member churches and partner agencies worldwide to initiate and, where necessary, increase their efforts to persuade their respective governments to review their Korea policies and bring them in line with the objectives of peace, justice and reunification. It reaffirmed that the reunification process should respect and recognize the reality of the two existing autonomous systems in the spirit of peaceful co-existence, with the objective of building a reunified country. Since the first Tozanso consultation, the WCC accompanied the Korean churches in every possible manner in their struggle for peace, reconciliation and reunification. The numerous efforts by the WCC over the years showed its commitment to the cause of Korean reunification. The major achievement of the WCC over the years included several programmes aimed at inspiring and mobilizing WCC members in the fellowship, particularly the member churches in Europe, North America and Japan, to support the cause of Korean reunification. The members of the ecumenical family have relentlessly supported the hope and aspirations of the Korean people and expressed solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Korea.

The journey of the Korean churches for peace and reunification has been a long one with many ups and downs. Time has proved that the Korean churches’ principled stand on the reunification issue was a prophetic witness. This is evident from the positive developments that have taken place during the last few years between the two sides. Today, we witness an unprecedented increase in economic cooperation between the North and the South. More visits of the South Koreans to the North are taking place. Cooperation on joint projects such as reconnection of roads and railways, the Kaesung Industrial Park and tourism at Kumgang, an increase of cultural contacts, joint sporting events, reunion of families and exchanges between different sectors of the Korean societies, are all positive steps that will ultimately lead to reunification.

Although progress has been made at various levels, there is still a long way to go to accomplish the mission of peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula. Peace building requires patience and perseverance; it requires new ideas, vision and new approaches, particularly in situations where grievances have multiplied and positions have been hardened. Settlement of disputes and conflicts requires the creation of a climate that is conducive to peace making between parties through confidence building measures and through de-escalation of military tensions and confrontation. In a globalized and inter-dependent world this is a shared responsibility of sovereign states and civil society groups. Civil society groups, including churches, in recent times have become important actors in peace making.

An effective way of working towards peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula needs a multifaceted approach. The WCC in its established policies has always rejected any sort of confrontational approach to settle conflicts and disputes. The WCC called on member churches to use every effort to overcome divisions and conflicts. It is in this context that the WCC supported the initiative of the Six Party Talks in order to facilitate peace negotiations that will ultimately lead to peace, reconciliation and reunification. The Six Party Talks have been stalled since 2006, when the DPRK renounced its earlier policy to participate in them. However, there are positive signs which appear now as the DPRK has indicated that it may return to multi-party talks on the nuclear issue, although it has also said it wants direct negotiations with the US first. President Barack Obama’s special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, stated earlier that the United States was “willing to engage with North Korea on a bilateral basis” on the condition that any bilateral engagement should not be a substitute for multilateral engagement. Whatever be the preconditions proposed for the resumption of the stalled Six Party Talks, the WCC believes that they would provide a platform for dialogue and negotiation that could diffuse tension and pave the way for a formal peace process.

Two years back, when I addressed an international consultation organized by the NCC Korea, I called the ecumenical family, particularly WCC member churches in the US, China, Japan and Russia (participants of the Six Party Talks) to persuade their respective governments to ensure the continuity of the Six Party Talks which could be used as an effective instrument for dialogue and to diffuse tensions in the peninsula so that people can live together in peace. I also made the suggestion at that time that it might be worthwhile to explore the possibility of organizing a parallel forum of churches of countries engaged in the Six Party Talks and also the churches in Canada, and the European Union during the time of the Six Party Talks. Well, as we all know the Six Party Talks themselves have been faced with numerous problems and have been interrupted every now and then. Although we could not hold any parallel events to the Six Party Talks, I am glad that we are assembling here now, when North Korea has expressed its willingness to resume the stalled talks and we also are meeting the same specific criteria for our meeting. I see ecumenical delegates sitting around this table from all those categories of countries – North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, the USA, the European Union, Canada, and also several other Asian countries.

I was also happy to take note of another significant development, the formation of an Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reconciliation, Reunification and Development on the Korean peninsula which was initiated almost two years ago at an international consultation held in Arnaldshain, Germany, which is being chaired by the WCC. As there are representatives and members in this forum from several countries in Europe, Asia, and North America, I do hope that this platform will widen its scope in the coming days and that it will become an effective instrument for continuing our ecumenical task of advocacy for true peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

True peace and reconciliation requires justice for all people. This means addressing people's well being and upholding their dignity. I understand that peace is a commonly used term in Korea which comes out of their own experience. Ms. Lee Oo Chung, a scholar of the New Testament and biblical languages, who was a Vice Moderator of the CWME of the WCC once said, “The Korean people have had so much experience of external aggression that the prayer of peace has become common language in their lives. When they meet a friend they say, “Have you been in peace” and when they separate they say, “Go in peace or stay in peace”. The longing for peace has been evident in their day to day lives. One thing is clear here, that the vision of the peace we envisage and seek is not simply the absence of war. The task we try to accomplish is not simply a quick fix arrangement of resolution of conflict. What is needed as a priority is a dialogue for peace in which those who suffer most are given the priority to bring their needs and aspirations to the table. The churches, by the very nature of their gospel mandate, have a responsibility to promote peace and work towards transformation of conflicts. Jesus Christ revealed his love to us on the cross and embodied the mystery of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not just a superficial approach of harmonizing the views of parties to a conflict. The churches' responsibility in situations of conflict is to create a favourable climate for resolution of differences by providing a platform for dialogue where both sides may freely share their perspectives and understanding of issues in order to find a common ground on which foundations for peace can be built. God's kingdom is to be found where all people can exercise their inherent right to dignity and freedom and can live with each other in peace and harmony, where justice, compassion and love undergird the life of the community. This is what we need to achieve in the long run - be it on the Korean peninsula, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Middle East or on the African continent. As the Apostle Paul reminded us: "through Christ, God has claimed us as friends and granted us peace. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:18).

There has been substantial progress achieved in terms of advocacy on Korea during the years since the 1984 Tozanso consultation. The global ecumenical fellowship and its members, together with the Korean churches, contributed to the struggle for peace, reconciliation and the reunification of Korea. As we are again gathered here to commemorate, reflect and dream together to move forward with a new vision and new ecumenical agenda for Korean reunification, we need to reflect more carefully on what is our vision of peace, justice and reconciliation in its totality. We need to envision peace based on the concept of shalom: a vision of justice, peace and reconciliation. Shalom is a “situation” or “state” concept representing the well-being of the individual and of communities. There is nowhere in the Bible where we can find universal norms or definitions of “justice” that can be applied to every concrete case in consideration. What we find in the biblical narratives are numerous cases of concrete actions and events in which God and human beings act in “just” or “unjust” ways. God’s justice is not simply a matter of fair dealing or compensation for all. Justice prevails in favour of those who suffer and who need deliverance; it is for the needy, defenceless and the weak. The condition towards the acts or works of justice is shalom. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of the community embracing all of creation. Shalom best describes the vision of peace which is the “effect of justice”. Shalom is one of the most commonly used words in the biblical narrative indicating the well-being of people who come out of the faithfulness of God. Shalom is used to refer to and wish for a safe and untroubled journey (Exodus 18:23, Genesis 26:29, Isaiah 55:12); a restful and sound sleep free from the threats of evil forces (Psalm 4:8, Ezekiel 34:25); a secure dwelling that is free from the threat of beasts or unfriendly forces (Leviticus 26:6, Ezekiel 28:26); or life of health and well being (Isaiah 57:18). Shalom is also the most all-embracing and comprehensive description and concept of human relations and community that is projected both as a future hope and as a concrete condition of attainment. Shalom also involves the equanimity and harmony of economic, social and political life, as in the freeing of a people, the feeding of the hungry, the giving of sight to the blind, the overcoming of economic injustice and oppression. There is no shalom where the resources of the community are distributed inequitably so that some eat and others go hungry, or where a ruler treats people unjustly. Shalom involves the overcoming of those attitudes and conditions of human behaviours that disturb, distort and devalue the human community. Shalom, in short, is a state of well-being and wholeness of life that embraces harmony with one’s neighbours and social relations. Korean peninsula is longing for this shalom which covers all aspects of life.

Shalom is thus not to be viewed as an idealist utopia. It is to be viewed as the concretization of the consequences of acts of struggle that are undertaken at every level of life. Shalom as the all-embracing and comprehensive vision of well-being is the basis, the goal and the generating power of peace-building. This concept of peace-building has translated this vision of shalom beautifully in historical terms, which is relevant in the context of the Korean peninsula too:

“No peace without justice

No justice without peace

No justice without freedom

No freedom without justice

No peace among people without peace with nature

No peace with nature without peace among people.”

When we think and plan for an ecumenical vision and agenda to respond to God’s call for peace, reconciliation and reunification of the divided communities of the Korean Peninsula, we need a holistic, integral vision of shalom that embraces “wholeness”, “harmony” and “oneness”. This vision of shalom is the basis of our peacemaking in all times and in all circumstances.