CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Call for sea change in relations with North Korea

HONG KONG (SE): The World Council of Churches called on all Christian organisations and Churches to observe a Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula on August 13, basing their prayer around the theme from Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
 
Although this is an annual call from the council to Christians worldwide, it says that this year it has taken on a particular importance, as the president of the United States of America (US), Donald Trump, has called his big guns close to the Korean coast in what a US defence official described as a show of force, and Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang has upped the ante in his threats to strike mainland US or Guam with a nuclear warhead.
 
Father Pat Cunningham, an active member of the Catholic Nonviolence Movement and the Catholic Solidarity Movement for Peace on the Korean Peninsula, reflected, “It seems we are trundling along from one crisis to the next when it comes to tit-for-tat exchanges between the US and Pyongyang.”
 
Nevertheless, he said that tension has tangibly risen in Seoul as the belligerent rhetoric between the two erratic leaders rises.
 
He added that this comes on top of the April firing of live weapons by North Korea at the same time that the US and South Korea were engaged in their annual military exercises.
 
On top of this, the Columban missionary said he believes that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system is also problematic.
 
The people of Seongju, the area where it is housed, are upset; the president, Moon Jae-in, does not really want it, but doesn’t know how to get rid of it; Pyongyang hates it and Beijing is far from neutral, with the foreign minister, Wang Yi, saying, “THAAD is not a simple technical issue, but an out-and-out strategic one.”
 
Wang explained that China sees it as a defence system and its radar as a direct violation of its national security interests. He added that it will not deter Kim and only create instability in the region.
 
But as Kim and Trump act like two leaders in weak positions desperate to defend themselves in fragile situations, the probability of developing a constructive language as a first means of engagement becomes more remote.
 
For numerous years, Pyongyang has insisted that it would suspend its nuclear weapons programme and missile testing if the US and South Korea put an end to their massive annual military exercises, which this year involved 300,000 personnel.
 
But to date, the US and its South Korean ally have not shown any inclination to give an inch.
 
This was reinforce by the US vice president, Mike Pence, when he said during a visit to South Korea that “all options are on the table,” a provocative utterance comparable with former president, George W. Bush, talking about his “axis of evil” to describe governments he accused of seeking weapons of mass destruction.
 
But Pyongyang plays its own game. The Associated Press quoted a top diplomat, Han Song-ryol, as saying, “Whatever comes from the US, we will cope with it. We are fully prepared to handle it.”
 
However, Father Cunningham says it is worth remembering that North Korea developed its nuclear programme only after the suspension of the Six Party Talks, which were held occasionally since 2003 in Beijing until they floundered and fell apart in 2009.
 
China, Japan, North Korea, Russia and South Korea joined the US in attending the talks, which Beijing chaired. But since their collapse, some nations have responded with economic sanctions hoping North Korea would implode, but in fact it has emerged resilient and emboldened.
 
But Father Cunningham points out that the most ignored dynamic running in all of this is Pyongyang’s persistent requests to the US to sign a peace treaty that would formally and definitively bring the unresolved agreement on the cessation of the violence of the Korean War signed in 1953 to an absolute conclusion.
 
Signed on July 27 of that year, the ceasefire agreement was welcomed, but the promised peace treaty definitively ending the war never materialised.
 
This left the Korean Peninsula divided into the two hostile entities that had been first created in 1946.
 
The 38th parallel, which people had previously been able to cross with a permit, then became a four-kilometre wide absolutely no access Demilitarised Zone, splitting over 10 million families, with brothers and sisters told they were now enemies.
 
While commentators talk of shuffling warships, softening rhetoric and creating retreat routes, the secretary general of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Olav Fykse Tveit, is calling for a sea change in approach to the issue away from political confrontation to engagement and dialogue.
 
Father Cunningham points to both history and the manoeuvrings of the present as evidence that there is no military solution to the current impasse and the responsibility of sorting out the mess that has developed over the past 71 years should be the domain of civilians.
 
He cites an initiative by 30 women peacemakers from around the world who on International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament in 2015 set out on May 24 to mark the 69th anniversary of the division of the peninsula as showing a way.
 
Calling themselves Women Cross DMZ, they negotiated the Demilitarised Zone with thousands of others from both north and south calling for a definitive end to the Korean War, the reunification of families and women’s leadership in the peace-building process.
 
Father Cunningham says their efforts were applauded by people in both Koreas, as “a peace treaty is a way to sustainable peace and is what the people of the Korean Peninsula deserve after the horrendous loss of four million lives during the Korean War.”
 
He goes on to say, “The urgent need for peace on the peninsula and the important role that women play in the peace process have never been more keenly felt, especially as governments and politicians fail to deliver.”
 
Women Cross DMZ has held international peace symposiums in both Seoul and Pyongyang, where they listened to Korean women, shared their experiences and ideas about mobilising women across the peninsula and around the world to bring an end to war and violent conflict.
 
Reverend Tveit concludes, “We appeal urgently to the members of the international community to liberate themselves and their policy towards North Korea from the vicious cycle of threat and counter-threat.”

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