Proactive Strategies toward Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

- Ecumenical Forum on Peace in Northeast Asia -

September 12-13, 2015, Centennial Building


Hun Jung Cho


[Volatile Situation of Korean Peninsula]


Last month when the North and the South were in the midst of military conflict, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that if North Korea attacks South Korea, the US will respond and that North Korea would have no chance of victory. He added, "It's probably the single place on the world -- in the world -- where war could erupt at the snap of our fingers."


Why is the US so interested in defending South Korea? Do they love South Korean people as themselves? Why does the US emphasize the foreign military policy of a 'Pivot to Asia?'


[Geo-political Situation of Korean Peninsula]


Knowing the causes of the division: how, why and by whom, takes you half way down the path to reunification.


Geo-politically, the Korean Peninsula is located between the continental powers of China and Russia, and the sea powers of Japan and the US. In peace time, Korea bridged different cultures and products. However, in war time, Korea has been the victim.


[The Taft-Katura Secret Agreement]


In 1905, the US made a secret agreement with Japan right after Japan won wars against China and Russia, respectively. The so-called Taft-Katura agreement declare that the US would rule the Philippines while Japan would rule Korea.


Right after the agreement was struck, Japan annexed Korea which until then had lasted for more than one thousand years as a single kingdom. Years of harsh colonization came to an end when Korea was liberated with the emperor of Japan surrendering on August 15, 1945, right after Soviet participation in the war against Japan and two atomic bombs dropped by the US.


A few days before the surrender, worried that the Soviets would occupy the whole of the Korean peninsula, the US offered a division of the peninsula in half along the 38th parallel line of north altitude.


This is why unlike Germany, Korea was divided instead of Japan. This is why the US flag was hung instead of the flag of Japan at the central governmental building in Seoul. The US military ruled Korea for three years until the South government formed on Aug. 15, 1948. Two months later, North Korea also formed its own government.


[How did the Korean War of 1950 start?]


Even before full-scald invasion by the North and the outbreak of the Korean War, 100,000 people had died already due to military clashes along the 38th line after the division in 1945. Under these circumstances, either North or South could have initiated a war at anytime. Yet, then US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, announced that the Korean peninsula was exempt from US military defense. 


Exerts from wikitree:

[Acheson's most controversial statement was his speech on U.S. policy toward Asia before the National Press Club in January 1950, in which he excluded Korea from America's defense perimeter. Many scholars are convinced that Acheson's announcement, though authoritatively representing Truman Administration policy, led Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin to conclude that the United States would not intervene if North Korea were to attack South Korea. Such a Soviet-supported invasion of South Korea did occur in June 1950, which led to the 1950-53 Korean War.]


I have a strong suspicion that the US seduced the North to invade because within three days of the outbreak of war, the US swiftly dispatched its armies to Korea and poured out all its stockpiles of bombs from WW II onto North Korea for three years. After only one year, when meeting began for ceasing fire, nothing was left standing, not even a single house, in Pyongyang city. There was no reason for two more years to pass before signing. The three-years long Korean War created deep roots of animosity between the North and the South peoples.



On July 27, 1953, the war truce was signed by the North Korea, China, and the US. According to the agreement, in four months' time, all foreign forces were to be withdrawn from the Peninsula, and then they would start peace talks. However, the US never withdrew and still has not up to now. In the 1988 theological declaration of the National Counsel of Churches in Korea(NCCK), the withdrawal of US military forces from the Korean Peninsula is highlighted for a truly peaceful reunification of the two Koreas.


[USA as an empire in the world]


Donald Gregg, a retired American politician, CIA Director and US ambassador to South Korea from 1989 to 1993, wrote in his memoirs, translated recently into Korean: "The tendency of demonizing foreign leaders whom we hate without any reasons or cannot understand causes us to push ourselves to the dead-end." He added: "We can cut off the tragedy of Korea, and we should do this. It can be achieved only through a dialogue and not by demonization."


A form of 'demonization' creates the false faith of the collapse of North Korea. Conservative political leaders in South Korea and the USA have harbored this illusion after the German reunification. True dialogue cannot happen with an imminent dying demon. In 1999, William Perry, US Defense Secretary said "we have to look at North Korea as it is, not as we want to expect."


[Sunshine Policy]


During the 70 years of division in the Korean Peninsula, the only best hope for peace came when two Kim Dae-Jung and Noh Moo-Hyun goverments(1998-2008) held summits with the North. The products of the summits were the opening of the Kaesung industrial complex, Kumkang mountain tours in the North, and frequent exchanges of civilians including the 16 meetings of families separated by the war. However, at each meeting, only 100 families from each side were allowed to see each other for 3 or 4 times in three days.


Then, in 2010, the so-called Chonan navy ship sinking accident happened. While the US and the South were conducting anti-submarine intrusion exercises near the sea border, the Chonan sank. The South Korean government blamed the North, saying their submarine attacked the Chonan ship with a torpedo, then sneaked away. The South government severed most of the relationship between the two Koreas, a situation which exists to this day. Right after the South's accusation, the North insisted to form the co-investigation committee. Donald Gregg says in his book, he does not believe the sinking was a North Korean attack because it was impossible technically. There are so many loopholes to prove the South's contentions.


[Tragedies that resulted from the Division]


1. Ten million families are separated. The first generation is dying because of age. No phone calls, nor mail, is allowed. Most do not know whether their partners are still alive or not.


2. Military build-up requires 15% of the South's national budget, 30% of the North's. Also, young men in their 20s, the most creative, energetic time of life on both sides must serve in the military, two years in the South, 7 years in the North. One of the social casualties is that the South has the lowest rate of welfare among OECD's top 30 countries.


3. Division permeates society. How many Presbyterian denominations are in the South? Several years ago, there were 236 presbyterian denominations officially. Building up animosity toward our own blood over 70 years fosters divisions among even Protestants who confess to following one Jesus Christ as a Savior, and one Calvin as a reformer.


4. South Korea has ranked #1 in the world for suicide for more than 11 years. If the South is the 13th wealthiest country and the most secure country with heavy military weapons and police, then why is this so? Socio-psychologically, a war demolishes everything; the fear of imminent war demolishes every hope for living.


5. South Korea's president does not have war powers over her own military. Instead, the commanding US general has it, the only country where this is the case among 250 United Nations members. At one point the Guardian paper called South Korea's president, Lee Myung-Bak, a poodle on President Bush's lap.


6. The top 1% of the richest people own more than half of our land, and the top 1% of stock holders own 63% of the currency in the South, a gap between rich and poor is widening. When people suggest an equal distribution of wealth through taxes, the South's intelligence agency can label them as pro-communists following North Korean instructions. Two years ago, the South government dismissed the Progressive Political Party which had 9 representatives in the National Assembly, as a third political party, accusing as pro-communists group.


[Mines Explosion and Differences between the two Koreas]


Last month, mines explosion in the Demilitarized Zone wounded two soldiers; both lost an ankle. After 5 days, the South government accused the North for setting a trap. Political tension reached its highest point when a machine gun was fired. However, right after the accident, Kim Ki Hyun director of a mine institute, wrote in the daily newspaper, Kyunghang, that it was the South's mines swept away by heavy rains. The North's mines are 10 times more powerful than the South's. They can kill and tear a body to pieces easily.


Representatives of the two governments then met for 4 days and announced an agreement. It mentioned 'the North's regret' about the accident. The literal meaning of "Regret" in Korean is to 'have a feeling.' The South government interprets it as an apology, while the North government denies this, interpreting it as 'having pity.'


[US benefits when South Korea buys weapons]


Five years ago, the US pushed South Korea into purchasing 40 F-35 jet fighters, to be delivered by the year 2020 at best. Wikitree says the price will be cut down by half in 2020. The US has also pushed the South government to purchase the very expensive THAAD missile system. Many experts say its target is not the North but China. And the small town of Kangchung in Jeju island has been a site of social turmoil ever since the South government announced plans to build up a navy base for US nuclear warships.


[Prophetic Voices needed]


Nowadays, the churches in the South are losing members speedily. The average age of members is more than 65 years old. The young generation has turned its back to churches. They even have contempt for churches.


Historically, there were two prominent periods when church exploded. One occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century when Japan invaded Korea. The second was during 1970s when some pastors and theologians protested in a prophetic way against the brutal military dictatorship of Park Chunghee to protect democracy and human rights.


According to the gospel of John, as Jesus crossed Samaria asked for water from a Samaritan woman, she replied, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink of water when Jews and Samaritans won't have anything to do with each other?" (The Message Bible interprets it "Jews in those days wouldn't be caught dead talking to Samaritans.")


In Ephesians 2;15, Paul said, "Christ has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands."


In short, Jesus violated the law of Moses. We must do the same with the law of security today in South Korea. Like Jesus, South Korean Christians try to break down the wall between the North and the South, not just by sitting in prayer rooms but by taking peaceful action on the streets. The Hyanglin Church that I am serving now is hanging a big banner over for 25 years, "Demolish the National Security Law."


[Proactive Steps Peace and Reunification of Korea with WCC]


Here are the proposals for peace:


1. Peace Treaty: In order to transform the truce to a peace treaty, the US must change its hostile policy towards North Korea. Like Cuba and Iran, the US must stop economic sanctions and war exercises against North Korea. Then both Koreas can discuss the reduction of military weapons and personnel as well as nuclear bombs. In 2000, the North suggested a reduction of military personnel to 200,000.(Now the South has 600,000 and the North has 1,000,000.)


2. Peace Train: Two years ago right before the Busan WCC Assembly, the NCCK with help from the WCC gathered 130 Koreans and international Christian leaders from 15 countries to travel by train from Brandenburg to Busan, through Moscow and Peking, but failed in the end through Pyongyang. This unfinished journey should be finished soon.


3. Peace Trail: The WCC and CCA could take an action to bridge the two Koreas by creating a Peace Trail in the DMZ, so that people can cross the other side like the World Women Peace group did last year.


(Symbolical Performance: In Ezekiel Ch. 37, Yahweh commanded Ezekiel to hold two sticks into one, each written 'Ephraim' and 'Judea.' I hold two sticks into one, each written 'ROK'(South Korea) and DPRK(North Korea) in Korean, making a cross.)


Thank you.



Member of Reunification Committee(PROK)

Sr. Pastor of Hyanglin Church in Seoul

Former chair of Reconciliation and Reunification Committee of NCCK

Chair of 'Jesus Action' (예수살기 상임대표)

Co-chair of 'No War Yes Peace' People's Action (전쟁반대평화실현 상임대표)

Member of Central Comm. of 'National Democracy Action'(전국민주행동 공동대표)