It is important that the worldwide Church plays a mutual and cooperate role in the search for peace between North and South Korea says Christine Elliott, Director of World Church Programmes for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). Churches have also been challenged by North Koreans to call for the sanctions on North Korea to be lifted and CTBI has been asked to take the lead on exploring a response to this.
For the past 64 years, there has been an uneasy truce on the peninsula. The war over the Korean peninsula was a rather strange war with both North and South Korean leaders keen to reunite the two parts of Korea but with significant resistance from the respective powers on either side; the Peoples Republic of China and the United States of America. There is some speculation that Eisenhower hinted that the USA would use its nuclear weapons if nothing changed as there had been a logjam in the peace talks. Finally, an armistice agreement was signed by USA, China and North Korea, on 27th July 1953, but no peace process was ever instigated. There have been several threats to the treaty and the US formally abrogated paragraph 13(d) in 1957 and proceeded to introduce new weapons. In 1975, the U.N. General Assembly adopted resolutions endorsing the desirability of replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty. North Korea has declared several times, beginning in 1994, that it will no longer feel bound by the Armistice, most recently in March 2017, but the UN holds that such actions can never be taken unilaterally.
At the WCC General Assembly held in Busan, South Korea, in 2013, the National Council of Churches of South Korea embarked on a campaign of action not to just raise awareness about the lack of a credible peace process, but to challenge the global ecumenical community to pursue this with them.
Over the years since the Assembly the WCC Commission on International Affairs has taken this seriously and has sought to continue to work with the re-invigorated network, the Ecumenical Forum for Korea (EFK). This body has representation from the Korean Christian Federation from North Korea as well as NCCK, and various members from around the world including CTBI, which was given membership of the steering committee at the meeting in Germany in July 2017.
As I write this there is an escalation of war rhetoric from both North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and USA’s Donald Trump. There is some sympathy with the view that North Korea is only building nuclear capability because there has been a near constant threat from the USA that war could break out at any time. The most recent ballistic missiles are extremely worrying and there is considerable anxiety that it will take just one foolish statement to escalate things completely out of hand.
In the shadow of this the EFK continues to stand for peace.
It is important that the role the churches worldwide play is one of mutuality and cooperation. At the meeting in Leipzig we were challenged by the North Koreans to call for the sanctions on North Korea to be lifted. They claim that they have a profoundly negative effect on the work for peace and moreover, they affect the poorest of the poor in North Korea the most.
The Church of Scotland was requested by one of its partner churches to work with them on this issue and they in turn asked CTBI to take the lead as there are other CTBI member churches which are willing to engage in this process. At the meeting in Leipzig we were asked to pursue this with more of our members, and especially those who are part of the reformed tradition as that remains by far the largest of the churches in Korea.