FRANK CHIKANE: Koreans are powerless to pursue peace
'Their benefactors were presenting themselves as though they knew what South Koreans wanted when in fact it was a reflection of their own interests'
With threats of "fire and fury" and "an enveloping fire", bringing the horror of nuclear war closer to reality again, the World Council of Churches (WCC) commission of the churches on international affairs decided to hold its meeting in South Korea so it could interact with church leadership and concerned organisations about the crisis in the Korean Peninsula.
This is the core of our mission. Over the years, we have held our meetings in troubled areas such as Palestine, Israel, Iraq, the largest refugee camp of Syrians in Jordan, Burundi, Ethiopia and Colombia. This is the only way we can be part of the solution, including being in solidarity with those who are victims.
The messages we received from South Korea were clear: they did not want war again on the Korean Peninsula after the horror of the 1950-53 war. Having witnessed the devastation of an atomic bomb in Japan, they were dead against any form of nuclear war on the peninsula. They were against any threats of war against North Korea or the imposition of sanctions against their neighbour to the north, as these only exacerbated the situation and increased risk levels. They wanted peace for the whole of the peninsula. Ultimately, they wanted reunification with North Korea.
What was painful was that they knew what the solutions were, but had no right or powers to pursue them. Their benefactors were presenting themselves as though they knew what South Koreans wanted when in fact it was a reflection of their own interests.
Our second observation was that people, in the main, lived on borrowed time — they believed their lives would end when the bomb dropped.
On our return we held an international teleconference with church leaders from the US, Europe and Asia to agree on strategies to interact with all affected countries. Leaders from the US had a larger share of responsibility to persuade President Donald Trump not to continue with his approach, which risked the lives of all Koreans and international peace and security.
We sent a request to visit North Korea to interact with church leaders and the government to understand their perspectives and what they thought could be done to find peace in the region. A joint WCC and World Alliance of Reformed Churches delegation of six people was allowed to visit North Korea for five days in May.
We flew into Pyongyang and were welcomed as special guests of the Korean Christian Federation. We visited the Pyongyang Theological Seminary, worshipped at the Bongsu Church and visited two other churches. We also visited the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, the Pyongyang Baby Home, an ophthalmic hospital, a museum, several monuments and a factory producing food.
Listening to North Koreans, it became clear they were concerned about the security of their country. They are prepared to sacrifice everything for the security of the state and the people based on the official state ideology of the "juche", which entails man (humanity) being the master of his (her) destiny. This explained why they spend large sums of money on the development of nuclear weapons, despite their many challenges.
We also had an opportunity to meet the political leadership to hear their views and understand how they thought we could be of help to avert war in the peninsula. We met with the president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the president of the Korean Reunification Institute.
They equally want peace and, despite the interests of external forces, they would open the borders, unite and live together in peace, like, yesterday! They both want to be reunited with their brothers and sisters on both sides of the demilitarised zone to become one country with two systems
The Three Charters for National Reunification monument, known as the Arch of Reunification, dramatically expresses their longing for peace and the reunification of South Korea and North Korea. The monument straddles the Reunification Highway from Pyongyang to the demilitarised zone that divides the two Koreas. The Three Charters refers to the principles of national reunification, a plan for the establishment of the united Democratic Federal Republic of Korea, and the Ten Point Programme of the Great Unity of the Whole Nation. Messages of support for the unification of Korea from many countries and organisations are engraved on the plinth.
Having visited both Koreas we are convinced that, contrary to dominant views in the western media, especially about North Korea, that neither south nor north wants war. They equally want peace and, despite the interests of external forces, they would open the borders, unite and live together in peace, like, yesterday! They both want to be reunited with their brothers and sisters on both sides of the demilitarised zone to become one country with two systems.
The meeting between President Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea demonstrated their determination to find a peaceful way of ending the war.
An armistice agreement was signed in July 1953 to cease hostilities until a final peace agreement was agreed upon. This has never happened.
The meeting between the two leaders led to the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and the Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which shows total commitment to peace. They agreed that "there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula".
The two leaders committed to realise a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. They shared the view that measures initiated by North Korea were "very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and they agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities to achieve this and actively seek the support and co-operation of the international community for the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
At the end of the visit in Pyongyang we asked people: "What do you expect us to do to assist in finding a lasting peace on the peninsula?" The answer was like a refrain: "Let the world know that we want peace, and that the world must leave the Koreans to implement their agreements without interference from outside."
They saw our role as that of reaching out to everyone who matters to support the Koreans in achieving a lasting peace and reunification of the two Koreas. They understood the strategic position of the churches globally and expected us to be able to help.
We returned from Korea convinced that the world has a window of opportunity to find lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world, and that the pursuit of the "common good" of all Koreans from north to south is the only way in which a lasting and just peace can be achieved, and the Koreans have shown the way in this regard.
• Chikane is the moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches. He is also the senior vice-president of the South African Council of Churches.