Ecumenical Accompaniment for Building Justice and Peace in Korea by Erich Weingartner

[This article was written for a discussion on "The Korean Peninsula: Towards an Ecumenical Accompaniment for Building Justice and Peace" at the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which took place in Busan, Republic of Korea, from 30 October to 8 November 2013.]

Site of the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, ROK

Site of the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, ROK (Photo by EW)

The Korean War claimed millions of lives between 1950 and 1953. Sixty years ago, that war paused with the signing of an armistice, marking the cessation of the hot war on the Korean Peninsula. But an armistice is not a peace, and the hostilities of the Cold War have not ceased to this very day. The world’s largest armies, with the most powerful weapons, still threaten each other across the so-called “demilitarized” zone that dissects this beautiful country. This seemingly endless confrontation continues to be used by those in power to prove that the price of security is readiness to resort to arms, and that justice is irrelevant to peace.

In the name of this false security, economic well-being continues to be sacrificed in favour of military prowess. But though the pain of this tragedy is borne primarily by Koreans, the illness that caused it is global. When the WCC thirty years ago embarked on a mission to forge lines of communication between North and South Korea, we could not help but challenge the sanity of the bi-polar world that was taken for granted as a necessity for the preservation of security in our World. We no longer have a bi-polar world, but we still have a bi-polar mentality. Bi-polar illness is what used to be called schizophrenia. The continued division of Korea is a clear symptom of our global schizophrenia. Read the rest of this entry »

The Final Chapter

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to the last CanKor Report #350, dated 27 July 2013, the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice Agreement.  --CanKor]

Dear Friends,

Exactly 13 years after the first CanKor newsletter was sent out to a handful of subscribers on 25 July 2000, we have reached the end of the road with this CanKor Report number 350. Cordial expressions of thanks and regret about the closing of CanKor continue to reach us. Many of them are directed towards me personally. I wish to quote two of them here, because each author has been an important mentor of mine.

The first is from David B. Dewitt, currently Vice-President of Programs at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo. David was my faculty advisor when I did my fellowship year at York University in Toronto:

“I, too, am saddened by the pending termination of CanKor. You provide an important contribution and service to those interested in not just the Korean Peninsula but also in the larger Asia Pacific context. And you and your team have done this with focus, determination and integrity for so many years. Just at a time when some mix of both rhetoric by some and indifference by others seems to be emerging, your lens would have been all that much more important. Although CanKor may be winding down, I trust that it doesn’t mean that we won’t regularly or at least occasionally be hearing from you.”

The second comes from Baldwin Sjollema, who was a role model for me when he headed the highly controversial World Council of Churches’ Programme to Combat Racism in the 1970s:

“What you and your wife have done over these past years through CanKor is exactly what I think the ecumenical movement is about: serving with conviction and compassion the wider human community in its almost endless struggle for justice and peace. The Korean issue is one of the toughest in today’s world. You have set in motion something, and something will have to take its place! With your service you have made a real contribution, which is appreciated by many people like myself, especially because nobody else did it. I am most grateful to you and express my special gratitude to you.”

As much as I take pride in such heartfelt approbation, I cannot in good conscience take all the credit for what CanKor is and was. Some of those who were involved in the past are mentioned in “CanKor history” on our website. We had powerful moral and material support from many friends, colleagues, contributors, volunteers and donors. Let me just mention a few of them here: Read the rest of this entry »

The Countdown is On

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to CanKor Report #349, the penultimate issue.  --CanKor]

CanKor LogoFollowing the announcement that CanKor is coming to an end, we received numerous heartfelt expressions of regret and congratulations. Let me share some of them with you:

“You have been selfless, brilliant, imaginative, balanced and inspirationally dogged in conceiving, launching and sustaining an important enterprise to push the North Korean rock up a steep Canadian hill.” –Paul Evans

“What you have accomplished is remarkable!  You have been pulling this sled loaded with heavy logs uphill, winter and summer, virtually alone.  Your accomplishments have been (sometimes grudgingly) recognized in officialdom, academic and church circles in Canada, by specialists abroad and that handful (which may be more than a small one) of North Koreans who enjoy your humor, profit from your insights, trust your integrity, and now and again find it convenient to communicate to a wider public through you.” –Dwain Epps Read the rest of this entry »

The End (of CanKor) is at Hand

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to CanKor Report #348.  --CanKor]

All good things must come to an end. But it seems that bad things tend to stick around a lot longer. Sixty years after the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the Korean War still claims victims to this very day. Divided families, escalating militarism, regional insecurities and violence in word and deed have become a generational legacy, perpetuating human suffering and casting a dark shadow on the future of Korea, the region and the wider world community.

Flag-Pins-Canada-North-KoreaDespite its modest capacities, Canada has played a significant role in Korea for more than a century. Canadian missionaries built schools and hospitals and participated in struggles against Japanese occupation and annexation in the first half of the 20th century. Canadian soldiers participated in the Korean War. Canadian activists supported the democratization movement in South Korea. Canadian humanitarians continue to provide assistance for food security and capacity-building in North Korea. In recent years Canadian teachers have taught the English language in both North and South Korea. Canadian human rights activists have provided assistance to displaced North Korean migrants and refugees. Canadians have been active in exchange programmes for professionals and students on both sides of the Korean divide.

The 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and South Korea are being celebrated this year. Less celebrated are the dozen years of diplomatic relations with North Korea. CanKor was born as an information mechanism to accompany the establishment of Canada-DPRK diplomatic relations. The last 12-plus years have been a roller-coaster ride. Our finances have dwindled even as public interest in CanKor has grown internationally. Read the rest of this entry »

What Works Best? by Erich Weingartner

There is a simple question I am often asked when speaking about humanitarian assistance: What works best with the DPRK?

Simple questions don’t always result in simple answers, and when it comes to the DPRK, simple answers don’t exist. Actually, even simple questions turn out to be more complex when applied to the DPRK: What do we mean by the words “works best”? Works best for whom? For what purpose? Under what circumstances? During what time period? And who or what determines what works best?

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

Works best for whom?

For the donors? For the implementing agencies? For the recipient country? For the intended beneficiaries?

What works best for international agencies may not work best for Korean organizations. What works best for resident NGOs may not work for non-resident NGOs. What works best for European NGOs under the umbrella of the EU or EC or ECHO may not work for American NGOs distributing the donations of US-AID. What works best for the Eugene Bell Foundation may not work at all for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). What works best for the elite in Pyongyang may not work well for the families of unemployed workers in Chongjin.

Works best for what purpose?

What may work best in the short term may not work best with a longer-term perspective in mind. When evaluating assistance programme models and strategies, we should consider what long-term objectives we are seeking to achieve:

  • When we intervene in the DPRK, is our only goal to feed the hungry?
  • Or are we also concerned about peace and security in the region? Read the rest of this entry »

Rolling Reforms: Reflections on Visits to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, by Rudiger Frank

[On visits to North Korea since Kim Jong Un came to power, CanKor Brain Trust member Rudiger Frank has seen growing evidence of a more diverse and cash-based economy. These signs of creeping reform are evidence of North Korea’s desire for change, but achieving real transformation remains a long and delicate process. Rudiger Frank is Chair Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies. He has visited North Korea numerous times. This article appeared in Global Asia, a publication of the East Asia Foundation in Seoul, Vol. 8, No. 2, SUMMER 2013. The full article, as published, with numerous pictures may be accessed here: Rolling Reforms. --CanKor]

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevardes of Pyongyang. (Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevards of Pyongyang.
(Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Painting a masterpiece and reforming North Korea have a surprising number of things in common. We know the necessary ingredients, tools and available techniques. There are numerous cases for comparison and a large body of literature to study. Still, few if any of us can create art to equal that of old masters such as Rembrandt or Kim Hong-do.

In theory, realizing North Korea’s potential seems easy. State socialist systems have been well researched and understood for decades. We possess a growing amount of empirical knowledge about North Korea. We can look at transformations in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe for guidance. Incentives have to be set right, so that resources are allocated more efficiently. China has demonstrated that this does not require a fully-fledged Western-style democracy, just a stable currency, markets where demand and supply result in realistic prices, private ownership and an economy that can freely import and export goods, services, capital and technologies.

We know that North Korea has a food, energy and transportation problem. We know that it can, theoretically, produce more food with more inputs of fertilizer, electricity, fuel and machinery, but that, for the time being, importing food would better reflect the North’s comparative disadvantage in agricultural production. We know that North Korea has abundant natural resources, that these are a potential source of hard currency and that a smart strategy would be to process these resources before exporting them. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to Address North Korea’s Prison Labor Camps, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. She is a specialist in human rights, humanitarian, and refugee issues and a leading expert on the subject of internally displaced persons. CanKor reproduces here a statement made by Ms Cohen at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies' Washington Forum 2013 and subsequently published by them as Issue Brief #60. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. --CanKor]

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

It is time for the international community to address itself directly to the most serious of North Korea’s human rights violations – the prison labor camps. Situated in the mountains of North Korea, the camps are estimated to hold some 100,000 to 200,000 prisoners, including whole families, many of whom are not expected to survive.

The issue has come to the fore through the combined efforts of human rights NGOs and former North Korean prisoners who have escaped the country. For several decades, NGOs, academics and journalists from the United States, Western Europe and the Republic of Korea have conducted painstaking research to unearth verifiable information about the camps and North Korea’s overall human rights situation. They have come up with persuasive evidence despite the regime’s efforts to conceal its conduct through denial of access. Read the rest of this entry »

KCF appoints new leadership

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

We reported last year on the death of Rev. Kang Yong Sop, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the only officially authorized Protestant church body in North Korea. (see “North Korean church leader Kang Yong Sop dies“, 23 January 2012)

For more than a year, this vacancy has been unfilled. This morning I received a fax from Pyongyang announcing the appointment of Rev. Kang Myong Chol as the new Chairman of the KCF. Kang Myong Chol had previously served as Chair of the Pyongyang City KCF.

At the same time, Rev. Ri Jong Ro was appointed KCF Vice-Chairman. Ri started in KCF as an interpreter, accompanying Kang Yong Sop at numerous international meetings, as well as visits by KCF delegations to churches around the world. He later studied theology and was ordained. He subsequently served as Director of the KCF International Affairs Department, maintaining relationships with the World Council of Churches and various denominations such as the United Church of Canada.

Text of his fax reads as follows:  Read the rest of this entry »

Testimony Before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, June 4, 2013

[On June 4, 2013, I was called as a witness to testify before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Below is the entirety of my prepared statement - I believe, there were some off the cuff remarks that probably drove the French language interpreters nuts.]

Jack KimGood afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me today to speak. As I wear several hats when it comes to North Korea, whether it is HanVoice, www.cankor.ca, or the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival Toronto, on behalf of all these organizations, I again extend my thanks.

Canada’s DPRK Policy: Controlled Engagement

Canada’s response to North Korea has been, at least rhetorically, aggressive. Since 2010 our government has pursued what has been termed a “Controlled Engagement” policy. The Controlled Engagement (“CE”) policy restricted bilateral contact with the regime except to four distinct areas: regional security concerns, human rights and the humanitarian situation, inter-Korean relations, and consular issues. It also forbid Canadians from importing and exporting anything into North Korea, and also introduced strict technology and investment sanctions. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5

The DPRK Business Monthly, an international business report edited in Beijing, has been made available to CanKor readers by its editor, Paul White. Please check the current June 2013 edition (which this month comes in two files) here: DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5 Part 1 and  DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5 Part 2

The nearly deserted Kaesong Industrial Complex (Photo by Arirang News)

The nearly deserted Kaesong Industrial Complex (Photo by Arirang News)

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • “Stunned Disbelief” at Cancellation of Talks
  • Mongolian Firm Buys Stake in NK Refinery

  • NK to Import Chinese Smartphones
  • North Korea Building “World-class” Ski Resort
  • N-S Trade Virtually Zero in May
  • P’yang Hosts International Organic Agriculture Workshop
  • NK’s Android-based Achim Tablet on Video
  • Visible Progress Toward Economic Reform
  • Invitation for International Public Tender
  • Work Going Ahead on NK-China Economic Zone
  • New Law on Economic Development Zones
  • N.K. Plans New US$200 m International Airport Read the rest of this entry »
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