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The Third International Peace Conference:  From Ceasefire to Peace

Related document:  Closing statement by Participants in the Peace Conference.


Impressions of a Visit to North Korea, November 11-15, 2003
by Victor W. C. Hsu, Sen
ior Advisor, Church World Service
A Presentation to the Third International Peace Conference,
Korea Peace Forum, Seoul, South Korea, November 17-18, 2003

First of all, allow me to extend a word of deep appreciation for this opportunity to share with you some impressions of a visit to North Korea by an official joint delegation of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and Church World Service.  I thank Dr. Kang Won-Yong for his kind invitation to our delegation to participate in this Victor Hsusignificant gathering.  The world is indeed in much need for peace beginning here on the Korean peninsula.  This is demonstrated by your presence coming from far and near and representing different religious traditions.  

The NCCCUSA comprises thirty-six Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member churches which account for approximately 50 million adherents in 140,000 local congregations. CWS is a global humanitarian agency of the same thirty-six member denominations, providing sustainable self-help and development, disaster relief and refugee assistance in more than 80 countries. 

We have just returned from a good visit.  Our official delegation was led by Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCCUSA), and the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director of the global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS).  The longstanding NCCCUSA and CWS partner, the Korean Christians Federation (KCF) hosted the seven-member delegation. 

The other members of the delegation are: Brian Grieves, Officer for Peace and Justice Ministries of The Episcopal Church, New York City; Mervin Keeney, Executive Director Global Mission Partnerships, Church of the Brethren, Elgin, Ill.; Victor Hsu, Senior Advisor to the Church World Service Executive Director, New York City; Sara Lisherness, Coordinator, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, Ky., and Zhu Xiaoling, Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific, United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cleveland, Ohio. 

For two decades, in response to the request of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) the NCCCUSA has actively engaged its members in responding to the Korean people’s aspiration for peace and reunification.  We have encouraged our government and Congress to take bold steps to help The delegation visited with Jeong Se-hyun, government minister of unification in Seoul.break down the walls of division between North and South Korea.  We have also on numerous occasions met with and facilitated contacts between the Christian communities of North and South. Numerous delegations led by top officials of the NCCCUSA have visited the peninsula as guests of the Korean Christians Federation and the NCC-Korea. 

These pioneering activities have fostered a significant ecumenical commitment to advocacy for peace and justice on the Korean peninsula and opened up ecumenical and political relationships with North Korea.    

Our visit this week marks the culmination of a three-part initiative that began with an April 2003, meeting, held in Chicago, of representatives of member denominations to address the burgeoning political and humanitarian crisis on the Korean peninsula. Dr. Edgar and Rev. McCullough convened an urgent meeting with representatives of member churches to outline a common advocacy strategy on U.S. Korea policy.

This led to a June 16-18 consultation in Washington, D.C., at which North American and South Korean church leaders joined humanitarian and Korea experts in calling for the U.S. government to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis.  U.S. and Korean churches were building on their longstanding relationship to launch a new effort to address a dangerous situation related to the breakdown in dialogue between the United States and North Korea and the escalation in war rhetoric. Our three-part initiative was a direct response to the request by the NCC-Korea and the Korean Christians Federation to work with them in addressing the latest crisis.  

As we flew into Pyongyang, we were saddened to observe almost 90% of deforestation of the land and the denuding of the mountains.  The terrain was virtually devoid of life-giving and life-preserving vegetation.  And as we drove two hours north to Mount Myohyang and two hours south to the DMZ, we saw only a few signs of industrial and economic activity.  We saw many people walking, some carrying baskets on their heads while others used small carts to transport the heavy loads.  People were working in the barren-looking fields and some were fishing. 

A main feature of the visit was the monitoring of the use of 420 metric tons of refined wheat flour donated by CWS.  The delegation toured the Bongsu Noodle Factory and Bakery, beneficiary institutions belonging to the KCF. The noodle factory processes one metric ton daily.  The supply would The delegation inspected the food supplies shipped to North Korea by CWS, now being used in a bread factory there.last through 2004. The total aid provided by CWS to North Korea since the outbreak of the food crisis in 1996 now stands at $4,349,989. 

The delegation also received a detailed briefing by the Country Director of the World Food Program, Mr. Rick Corsino about the food shortage and the general humanitarian situation in the country.    Mr. Umberto Greco of the WFP NGO Office participated in the briefing.  Both officials expressed deep concern about the decline in the quantity of international assistance.   Mr. Corsino hoped that the international community would respond generously to the United Nations $200 million Consolidated Appeal announced on November 15, 2003.  

One cannot condone the withholding of aid by the richest country in the world.  President Bush reduced U.S. aid dramatically to a mere 40,000 mt for the current year, citing the need to have better delivery and monitoring conditions for the WFP.  We were sad to learn that the U.S. did not send more aid given that we were told on this trip that there continued to be gradual improvements in the operating conditions of the WFP.  The U.S. has fallen from being the top donor to number five.  

I don’t want to cite all the appeal figures issued by the UN.  Suffice to indicate here that North Korea, due to its terrain and economic ability, needs about 2 million mt of grain from external sources, purchased or donated.  At the height of humanitarian assistance in 1998-99, the total amount of aid made available to the WFP was only about 650,000 mt.  

Unless more aid is provided, the gains that have been made in avoiding the mass stunting and wasting in children’s growth will be undone.  The health of the population will further deteriorate causing increase in deaths related to hunger and malnutrition. Moreover, one cannot underestimate the gradual opening up of the North Korean society as a result of its contact with the international organizations and aid agencies.  I have been a regular visitor to NK since the late 1980’s and I can attest to the changes a la glasnost in that society, notwithstanding the changing attitude of the people towards the archenemy: USA.  Imagine the effect across all villages when the people take their ration of grains home in bags with the U.S. flag imprinted on them.

We strongly encourage the international community and our churches urgently to provide assistance in health and agricultural sectors where there are immense needs. Medicine and medical equipment are in very short supply.  Animal husbandry, livestock production, fertilizers, farm equipment and seeds will be enormously beneficial to the farmers and farm cooperatives.  Helping North Korea with irrigation and having a clean water supply system would also contribute greatly to the well-being and prosperity of the people. 

In April this year I also visited North Korea to monitor the food sent by CWS in response to a direct appeal from the World Food Program.  In visiting seven The delegation participated in worship in a North Korean house church.beneficiary institutions, the Koreans kept asking me, ‘When is the next shipment?” They are in need of all sorts of aid.  The need is massive. 

The highlight of the program for each member of the delegation was the visit to the Chigul Church and the House Church located on Tong-Il Road in Pyongyang’s Nangnang district.  The KCF had arranged these two week-day encounters at the request of the delegation.   The delegation was filled with thanksgiving as the members prayed, and sang hymns together with their Korean brothers and sisters of the same faith.  They shared expressions of great joy and words of encouragement and comfort to each other and pledged their common commitment to the peace and reunification of Korea. 

This presents me with an opportunity to share with you the latest information on the other two religions in North Korea.   The Chondogyo which founded its Central Guiding Committee in February 1952 is said to have about 15,000 believers.  It has a central church building and 80 prayer rooms in Pyongyang and about 800 other prayer rooms around the country.   The Buddhists have a federation founded in 1945 and are said to have 10,000 believers with 5 temples in Pyongyang and another 60 around the country.

As far as the Christian community is concerned, the latest development is the beginning of the construction of a Russian Orthodox Church in Pyongyang. 

The sobering visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmumjom brought home to the delegation of the tragedy of the Korean division which resulted in the separation of an estimated 10 million family members. The tight hi-tech security and the ubiquitous latest military surveillance technology as US and North Korean soldiers stand eye-ball to eye-ball across this ideological divide were a sharp reminder that the Korean War had not ended.  A briefing at the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom was a stark reminder of the long-standing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.Equally sobering to the delegation was the North Korea understanding of the role that the USA played in creating and perpetuating the division. 

As Christians we are particularly interested in the ministry of reconciliation and to work unceasingly to break down the barriers that divide human beings one from another. This reconciliation is urgently needed today in Korea, which for half a century has been divided. The divided Korean people are yearning for reunification was the message that was repeated to us several times. But we believe that reconciliation is also necessary between the USA and North Korea. The churches must engage in a ministry of reconciliation reaching out to Christians and Korean people of other faiths to engage them in dialogue as well as to affirm a common humanity.  

The delegation was cordially received by the third-ranking person in the North Korean government, Vice Chairman Kim Young Dae of the Supreme People’s Assembly, with whom they held a wide-ranging exchange of views on the US-North Korean relations, the prospects for the Six-Party Talks on the nuclear issue, improvements in Inter-Korean relations and the continuing and deepening humanitarian crisis. 

Here too we were told that the U.S. policies are hostile to North Korea and that the U.S. is hindering reunification by blocking South Korea’s initiatives.  As far as the North Koreans were concerned there must be fundamental changes in the U.S. policy towards North Korea before any significant progress could be made over the nuclear impasse. 

In response to an invitation from the Department of State, members of the delegation will provide a briefing to Assistant Secretary James Kelley on November 26.  Earlier in June, U.S. and South Korean ecumenical leaders held talks with high officials at the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council about the serious political and humanitarian situation on the peninsula.  I would like to cite three paragraphs from the message of the consultation which we shared with the U.S. government officials. 

  • strongly urges that the six-party talks not only focus on the nuclear issue but include developing means and mechanisms to a sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula.  Given that a comprehensive and lasting peace requires international cooperation, we encourage the international community particularly those countries in the region, to participate as actively as appropriate. It is our conviction that diplomacy and negotiations remain the best approach for finding durable solutions.

  • calls for a  clear US statement in favor of a peaceful resolution to the tensions on the peninsula.  As part of a reenergized dialogue to arrive at a comprehensive settlement for peace and political reunion on the peninsula, the delegation urges the administration to pledge not to preemptively attack North Korea, to conclude a non-aggression pact and to move toward a comprehensive peace formally ending the “state of war” that has existed since 1953. In this regard, ending the Armistice and replacing it with a peace treaty will help promote a political climate conducive to lasting peace on the peninsula. 

  • critical for the future of the Korean peninsula is affirmation and respect for the sovereignty of the Korean people.  Equally important is continued improvement in inter-Korean relationships.  The December 13, 1991 Inter-Korean Agreement for Non-Aggression, Reconciliation, A delightful performance by North Korean children was enjoyed by the U.S. visitors.Exchange and Cooperation should continue to be implemented jointly by both authorities.  More opportunities for family reunion involving far more numbers of Koreans should be further arranged between North and South. 

The sunshine policy has transformed the Inter-Korean confrontation into cooperation at all levels, political, economic and cultural, opened the doors for visits by South Koreans to the North for the first time since the division, and instilled hope and excitement about a new era of possibilities. The international acclaim was encouragingly accompanied by the normal relations between North Korea with several countries including the Philippines, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union. 

The Korean peninsula has not enjoyed tranquility and peace since the Japanese occupation at the beginning of the 20th century.  The uneasy peace since the signing of the Armistice agreement in 1953 continues to victimize a people whose families have been separated for a half century and whose dreams of reunification have just begun to be fulfilled under the constructive engagement policy of President Kim Dae Jung.  

The reliance on arms should not be the basis for establishing peace and security on the Korean peninsula.  In fact, the remilitarization of the Asian region will prolong US military presence in South Korea, thus complicating Inter-Korean relationships and possibly further postponing the reunification of Korea. 

The Bush administration advocates unilateral pre-emptive military strikes in response to perceived threats to U.S. security has been widely criticised. It runs counter to the UN Charter and creates a pattern that could seriously undermine international security. This implied equation of security with military force is in stark contrast to the commitment of churches to human security, which, they say, can be achieved only through economic justice, peace, and respect for human rights and international law.

The Korean peninsula is the most militarized region in the post- Cold War period.  The rearming of Japan, the arms competition between China and Taiwan, the perceived encirclement of China by the USA, and the instability of the Russian A Korean muscian entertains at the closing dinner for the delegation.Federation, the fragility of North Korea which has the world’s fifth largest standing army turn the DMZ into a tripwire for a lethal conflagration.

I would like to point out that the military and/or nuclear Rubicon may have been crossed.  Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, first strike was never contemplated.  In fact, the disarmament movement of those days argued persistently that if the weapons were not to be used then they should be dismantled. Ominously, both China and United  Kingdom have also adopted a first strike policy.  China did so, according to its new doctrinal manual.  It authorizes Chinese military to fire its missiles first, not only if  “separatists” split the country but also if “foreign powers use military means to interfere in China’s domestic affairs” or even when “our vital strategic targets such as nuclear power stations, hydroelectric dams or major cities are seriously threatened by an enemy’s high-tech weapon.”

UK Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said in March 2002:  British policy would also “in extreme circumstances include the use of nuclear weapons.”  This statement was quoted in Military Action Against Iraq: The Nuclear Option by Stephen Pullinger, Center for Defense Studies, ISIS Policy Paper no.83, April 2002.  Concerned scientists and military strategists fear that with these three powerful military countries adopting a first strike policy a nuclear “Rubicon” has been crossed. 

What role should civil society play? 

The first task will be for us to recognize that it must step forward to provide a forum for resistance.  I believe this is precisely what the Korea Peace Forum is trying to accomplish. The grave international situation beckons us to step up to face the challenge to hold up the banner of resistance and rally the peoples of the world to immerse themselves in the battle for lasting peace founded on justice.  We must take advantage of the existing civil society networks, our rich history of cooperation and our common commitment.  

The second challenging task is to provide accurate information and fundamental analysis.  From the basic understanding  that the people should be the actors of history, and in order to sharpen issues in their interrelated dimensions, we must provide a framework for analysis and action that is comprehensive and effective.  We must not neglect this essential task.  It is the foundation for any successful campaign.  During these days of so-called extraordinary times when many governments giveA Korean musician performs at the closing dinner for the delegation. information on a need to know basis, when disinformation is part of the war on terror, when media exercise self-censorship, we are called upon fill the gap and perform the necessary and correct analysis.  In this regard, the Internet technology provides a useful too for information and analysis sharing across the globe.  We must make better use of this technology.   

Third, we must be open to cooperate with all like-minded people and groups.  The enormity of the problems caused by the globalization of forces of domination and destruction makes it abundantly clear that the mobilization must cut across all borders.  We must now join forces with the progressive movements and other sectors of civil society to demonstrate our conviction that, yes, another world is possible. 

Finally, as we become part of a broader coalition, we need to continue to find ways to meet, despite the limitations of funds in order that we can nurture each other as peoples of faith so that we encourage one another to carry on the battle.  However daunting the task, however long the challenge, we cannot shirk our responsibility.    

-end-

Related Stories:

First Reports and Photos, Filed on U.S. Delegation's Exit from North Korea.
The Ecumenical Delegation's Six-Point Call to Action on Korean Crisis.
Closing Statement by Participants in Third International Peace Conference in Seoul.


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