Ecumenical Consultation on the Korean Peninsula Concludes with Call to Reconciliation

The ecumenical “Korean Peninsula – A Flashpoint in North East Asia” consultation concluded on Oct. 21 with a call to “normalize relations between the DPRK (North Korea) and the USA” as a means to “diffusing tension in the region.”

The four-day consultation, which was jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), was held in Tozanso, Japan to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of a breakthrough conference held in the same city in 1984.

The 1984 conference, which was themed “Peace and Justice in North East Asia – Prospects for Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts,” launched a series of first-time events “that included face-to-face meetings between Korean delegations from North and South, visits by churches and ecumenical agencies to both the DPRK and the ROK, as well as visits by delegations of the Korean Christians Federation (KCF) to churches in Asia, North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.”

While much of the Oct. gathering was focused on commemorating the achievements and developments toward peace since the prior conference, attendees also formulated a renewed “process for future ecumenical activities toward peace in the Korean peninsula.”

Such recommendations included: the normalization of relations between the DPRK and the USA and the adoption of a non-aggression pact; a more independent regional policy and role by Japan to create regional stability; the continuation of humanitarian support by Japan, USA and other countries without conditions attached; Lifting of economic sanctions of the DPRK; and the continuation of the growth of the WCC-CCA’s joint working group on peace and reunification.

The following is the consultation’s final statement, as released on Oct. 21:

International affairs, peace & human security

Final press communiqué emanating from the Consultation to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Tozanso Process
“Korean Peninsula – A Flashpoint in North East Asia”
17-21 October 2004, Tozanso, Japan

Fifty-five church leaders and consultants from nine countries of Asia, Europe and North America met under the auspices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) at the Tozanso YMCA conference centre in Japan from 17th to 21st October 2004 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of an historical ecumenical consultation that initiated lines of communication between Christians of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

In 1984, a consultation on the theme “Peace and Justice in North East Asia – Prospects for Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts” launched a series of first-time events that included face-to-face meetings between Korean delegations from North and South, visits by churches and ecumenical agencies to both the DPRK and the ROK, as well as visits by delegations of the Korean Christians Federation (KCF) to churches in Asia, North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. Collectively, these initiatives have come to be known as the “Tozanso Process,” widely regarded as the precursor of rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula.

In addition to reviewing the historical events that shaped the period following the original Tozanso Consultation, participants heard a series of presentations on current trends shaping inter-Korean and global relations related to peace and security in the region.

During the worship service that opened the consultation, Dr. Philip Potter, who as WCC General Secretary 20 years earlier strongly supported the struggles of the Korean people for democratization and reunification, led a bible study on prophetic witness for peace and justice.

Dr. Ninan Koshy, former Director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, presented a paper on major geopolitical trends in Asia. Referring to the “second nuclear age” that followed the Cold War nuclear confrontation, Koshy warned that “the newer nuclear states are dealing with enemies close at hand – minutes away by missiles – in conflicts that could unfold quickly.” New military doctrines by the USA call for technology that, according to Koshy, will make it possible to use nuclear weapons for preemptive strikes as part of available military responses.

Recalling the recent history of US-DPRK relations, Dr. James Laney, President Emeritus of Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, and former US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, said that the urgency of the Korean situation requires immediate action. Calling himself a “Christian realist,” Laney said it is important to acknowledge that all people everywhere are created in the image of God, and therefore have a basic right to a decent respect. His “modest proposal” is that the USA should engage with the DPRK, give security assurances, stop the isolation, and stop exploiting the fears of people.

A former professor at Korea University, Dr. Hahn Bae Ho reviewed the history of inter-Korean bilateral relations. He said that the two Koreas have not yet agreed on a “roadmap” leading to a “confederal” stage of unification, a prospect that would be greatly enhanced if the two Koreas were “earnestly committed to undertaking internal changes in political, economic and other areas.” However, the Sunshine Policy of engagement and the North South Joint Declaration of June 2000 created new opportunities for bilateral relations giving new reasons for hope.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Tozanso Consultation as a significant historical event, the Rev. Kang Yong Sop, Chairman of the Korean Christians Federation of the DPRK, thanked “colleague brothers and sisters of church organizations and staff members of the WCC and CCA” for their contributions to strengthening ecumenical solidarity in support of Korean peace and reunification. He called on churches “in this time of crisis” to continue their vigilance in helping to remove US hostile moves toward the DPRK and supporting the implementation of the June 15, 2000 North-South Joint Declaration.

The Rev. Paik Do-woong, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) said that he believes peaceful coexistence has become a current that cannot be reversed. Nonetheless, he pointed to increasing opposition by conservative groups – including many Christian churches – which are against the “Sunshine” policy and the abolition of the National Security Law. Paik said that the NCCK would continue to seek the ecumenical community’s commitment to human rights, democracy, peace and the reunification of Korea.

Dr. David Kwang-sun Suh, professor emeritus of theology at Ewha Women’s University and a chief drafter of the 1988 NCCK Declaration of Korean Churches on National Reunification and Peace, reflected on this document in his Bible study. The participants discussed the content of the Declaration in groups and urged the NCCK to further articulate its meaning in light of the current situation. They joined in the confession of sins of hatred and demonizing of adversaries.

Professor Kinhide Mushakoji, Director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Partnership at Osaka University of Economics and Law, presented an analytical framework for understanding the Korean dynamic. He criticized Japan for manipulating diplomatic negotiations rather than confronting its negative past, and promoted a greater role for United Nations agencies in the resolution of the Korean conflict.

Representatives of ecumenical partners in Japan, USA, Canada and Germany presented a review of their activities in the framework of the Tozanso Process.

The consultation formulated a process for future ecumenical activities toward peace on the Korean peninsula, including the following recommendations:

• Normalization of relations between the DPRK and the USA and the adoption of a non-aggression pact will provide a solid foundation for ending the Armistice and replacing it with a Peace Treaty. Reconciliation between the US and the DPRK remains the key to diffusing tension in the region.

• A more independent regional policy and role by Japan is essential to create a climate for peace, security and regional stability. The implementation of the Japan- DPRK Pyongyang Declaration 17 September, 2002 will further this process.

• Humanitarian support for food, medicine, and other inputs should be continued by Japan, USA and other countries without conditions attached. Humanitarian assistance should not be abused for political ends. In order to address the fundamental economic conditions, donor countries should consider other forms of assistance like the provision of energy and development aid.

• Lifting of economic sanctions of the DPRK will lead to better living standards and progress in different sectors of society. The US and Japan should refrain from using sanctions as a political leverage in their policy of confrontation and isolation.

• The participants encourage the WCC and the CCA to convene a working group to build an ecumenical network of churches, individuals and organizations interested in promoting peace and the reunification of Korea.