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 »

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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 »

Swiss mark 60 years of military presence in Korea

[The most sober account of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement that we have found comes – appropriately – from the International Service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. We include here three items from their “neutral” point of view. –CanKor]

A Swiss officer monitors the border between the two Koreas in 1977 (RDB)

A Swiss officer monitors the border between the two Koreas in 1977 (RDB)

Flexible neutrality on the DMZ

The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) was created by the armistice accord signed on July 27, 1953, in the town of Panmunjom. The armistice text ended the armed conflict but stopped short of being a peace treaty. It was signed by the armed forces present and not by the governments of the two sides.

The signatories were the Korean People’s Army (North Korea), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the United Nations Command. The South Korean army was not a signatory, which is why the North has never considered it as a party in the context of eventual peace negotiations.

The NNSC was stationed on each side of the border within the demilitarised zone and was made up of military personnel from Switzerland and Sweden at the bequest of the South, and of Polish and Czechoslovak troops at the bequest of the North. The four delegations carried out the mission jointly.

The criteria for neutrality were relatively flexible as it was enough to not have participated in the Korean War to be considered neutral. In the first instance, the North proposed the Soviet Union as a neutral party. After the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1993, the country’s delegation was withdrawn and not replaced.

The Polish delegation, stationed on the north side of the border was asked to leave in 1994 when North Korea declared that the NNCS no longer existed. Poland no longer has a permanent presence in the demilitarised zone but remains a member of the NNSC and sends delegates several times a year to participate in activities in Panmunjom. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Myths About North Korea, by Joel S. Wit & Jenny Town

[This article appeared in the 29 March 2013 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Joel S. Wit is a visiting fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and founder of its North Korea website, 38North. Jenny Town is a research associate at the Institute and the editor of its website. –CanKor]

It’s Not a Hermit Kingdom, and 4 Other Myths About North Korea

Yes, we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s recent threats seriously. But first, we have to lose the comic-book caricature of his country.

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

Every day the media is filled with reports of North Korea threatening to attack the United States and its close allies. An escalating cycle of threat and counter-threat has been going on for the past few months. It started with the North’s partially successful long-range rocket test in December, was followed by its third test of a nuclear bomb in February, new U.N. sanctions in response to those tests, U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang’s bellicose threats to launch strikes against the United States, and now the temporary deployment of long-range U.S. B-2 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to South Korea.

Americans should be deeply concerned about these events. While the North may eventually be able to put a nuclear weapon on top of a long-range missile and attack the United States, Pyongyang’s bombs can already reach our friends in South Korea and Japan. There is also a danger that North Korea may export nuclear technology to other rogue states, like Iran and terrorist groups. Remember that the North did send a nuclear reactor for producing bomb-making material to Syria — luckily Israeli warplanes destroyed the unfinished facility in 2006. The danger of exports will grow in the future if the North’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow. Read the rest of this entry »

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