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Justice, Peace and People's Security in North East Asia

Report of the Ecumenical Consultation held in Kyoto, Japan, 26 February - 3 March 2001.

03 March 2001

Report of the Ecumenical Consultation held in Kyoto, Japan, 26 February - 3 March 2001.

Historical background

Since the 5th WCC Assembly in Nairobi in 1975, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has worked substantially on the issues of militarism and disarmament in the context of giving guidance to the churches on their work for justice and peace. The following year, a major consultation on militarism and its impact on Asian societies was held in Kuala Lumpur, under the auspices of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

Seventeen years ago, the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) organized a consultation in 1984 on Peace and Justice in North-East Asia in the Japanese town of Tozanso. This was during a period when the Cold War threatened to explode into nuclear conflagration. In light of various dangerous regional confrontations, church leaders decided to look at ways to defuse conflict and bring about the reconciliation of people in the region.

Of particular concern was the division of Korea, which prevented Christians of North and South to work together to explore possible ways of reducing tensions and building peace on the peninsula. In the wider framework of regional concerns and within a caring ecumenical community, it was possible to reflect theologically on the calling of Christians to seek reconciliation on the basis of repentance and the hope which comes through faith in Christ. Affirming that a loving God would not leave any people without witnesses, church leaders from South Korea took the courageous step of trusting in the authenticity of Christians in the North who sent greetings to the consultation. They asked the WCC to initiate direct contact with the Korean Christians Federation (KCF) and to invite them into dialogue with South Korean Christians within the ecumenical family.

In its report to this consultation, the National Council of Churches in Korea expressed appreciation for the continued concern of the WCC and the churches around the world in raising awareness about the imperatives of Korean reunification. The stimulus that this gave to the Korean churches in their own effort to seek dialogue across political barriers has contributed significantly to the new political, economic, and human relationships, including the emotional reunions of separated families.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War have had their impact also on North East Asia. Major political and economic changes have affected all the countries in the region. This is a time of hope, but it is also a time of danger. While creative thought and committed action have helped to improve the lives of the poor and the weak, these gains are overshadowed by the ascendance and impact of global economic interests, backed by the aggressive military projections of the powerful.

Purpose and participation

This consultation meets at a time when the yearnings for justice, peace and people's security have been heightened by recent political and strategic developments.

From 26 February to 3 March 2001, some 45 participants from churches in the region, ecumenical partners from Europe, North America and the Pacific, as well as staff members of the WCC, the CCA and the Council for World Mission (CWM) met at Kansai Seminar House in Kyoto, Japan. They set about discussing the capacity and tasks of churches and the ecumenical movement in meeting the significant new challenges to peace, justice and people's security in the North East Asian region.

Opening worship was held using traditional Japanese elements. Professor Masao Takenaka gave a message using the image of bamboo to convey Jesus' emptying himself to the point of death on the cross.

Keynote addresses were presented by Victor Hsu ("From Black Ships to Star Wars to a New Heaven and a New Earth") and Muto Ichiyo ("People's Security in Post-Cold War Situation"). Presentations by representatives of the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ), the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), the China Christian Council (CCC), and the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), outlined different perspectives on people's security in North-East Asia.

Stories were also shared about the struggle of Okinawan people against the destruction of the environment and the disruption of the life of the people by the presence and expansion of American military bases on their land, as well as the struggle of indigenous people of Taiwan for their land, heritage and dignity.

The consultation was disappointed that the Korean Christians Federation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could not be present. A message was received from the KCF during the consultation commending the WCC for this timely initiative, and expressing regret at being unable to attend. Nevertheless they sent warm Christian greetings and prayers for a successful consultation. They underlined the hope that the consultation would proceed in the spirit of the June 15 Joint Declaration of the Korean summit of 2000, and encouraged participants to support the process of peaceful reunification of Korea.

Theological understandings

Peace, justice and people's security are rooted in God's call for life abundant for all (I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10). A WCC "Consultation on Militarism" in 1977 affirmed that:

"Security for humanity has as its basis the loving will of God who desires that none shall perish and that all his creation should enjoy this fullness of life. False notions of security blind the nations and they should be challenged. The peace we seek is a ‘warm peace': not merely the absence of war, but a peace best defined in the biblical word "shalom", which expresses a positive state of justice, mutual respect for differences, welfare, health, security; a community embracing all humanity which is a loving concern for all."

The biblical vision of security is not based on the security of the state, nation or king. Rather, it calls the state or "king" to do justice and seek God's shalom (Isaiah 10:1-2). In both Isaiah and Micah, the vision of shalom weaves abundant life inseparably into people's security that includes gender justice, social, ecological, economic and political conditions for peace with justice, both internally and internationally.

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid… the lion shall eat straw like the ox… the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den… they will not hurt or destroy…" (Isaiah 11:6-9)

"…they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid." (Micah 4:3-4)

All nations, economic systems and rulers stand under the judgment of the shalom vision wherein justice and peace are both the conditions for and the fruit of abundant life for all. This vision is for all persons and generations for fullness of life. It is historical and concrete. The sins of the past must be remembered and repented. Women, children, the old and the excluded must be full and equal participants. Impunity must be replaced by truth, justice and a reconciled community.

Reconciliation restores broken and unjust relations between persons, communities and nations. It is this ministry of reconciliation to which churches are called today, but reconciliation is a difficult and costly process which requires courage and prophetic witness.

The emphasis of the writer of the Psalms is always on the needs and dignity of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the sojourner. Jesus takes Isaiah's vision and puts the oppressed, the captives, the blind and poor at the centre of his mission. (Luke 4:16ff) For Jesus, a sure sign of the reign of God was that the blind be enabled to see, the lame to walk, and the poor to receive good news. (Matt. 11:5) This is the biblical test for human and people's security. There can be no just measure of society based on GDP, capital growth, size of the army, or average wealth. People's security requires addressing the structural realities of the global and local situations.

From the perspective of faith, the security of all is judged by the "shalom security" of the poorest, the weakest, the excluded, the subjugated, the people, the minjung. Christians are called into the struggle for security of women, for children, for tribal and aboriginal peoples, for all those undervalued and marginalized by corporate-led, market-driven globalization.

The measure of people's security is abundant life for "the least of these" in a globalized world economy afflicted by extreme poverty, disease, injustice, environmental degradation and militarized hegemony.

In the eyes of faith, peace, justice and people's security in North-East Asia today require that we seek to realize Isaiah's vision:

"For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth… No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit… They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord - and their descendants as well… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:17-25)

The new context

The consultation celebrated the significant improvements in this region over the past two decades. However, new threats to the security of people have emerged. Important points of contention continue to divide societies and even churches in this region.

In 1984, many of the churches of the region suffered under repressive military dictatorships and their national security ideologies. Most of these regimes have now been replaced by democratically elected governments. In some cases, churches have gained a very considerable political influence with their governments. In other cases, relations have improved but the relationship is still uncertain and churches proceed with caution. In still others, churches are a minority with little means of direct influence.

Participants noted both positive and negative aspects of globalization. For example, the means of communication have increased dramatically, making it easier for civil society groups, non-governmental organizations and people's movements to communicate rapidly, to share information and to engage in common advocacy.

In its report, the PCT drew attention to the rapid growth in numbers of transnational non-governmental organizations and to their positive influence for justice, peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment. To achieve these goals, we cannot rely on governments alone.

The consultation encouraged churches to form new alliances with other partners in civil society, other faith groups and academic research institutes and coalitions. There is a noticeable "globalization from below" by which citizens effectively organize themselves for common action across national boundaries.

Globalization has made us aware of our interdependence across national and geographical boundaries. As the CCC noted in its report, among the negative effects of globalization are the marginalization and exclusion of workers, job and income insecurity. There is a need for common commitment to better standards of living for all, a better quality of life for those who suffer most, so that economic benefits can accrue to all, and the environmental heritage can be protected for future generations.

Reliance on military solutions to human problems and divisions persists and in some ways has grown. The consultation questioned the justice and value of human security based on military security. Solutions to conflicts too often rely on military power. But this cannot be the ultimate basis for people's security. There is a need to decrease the potential for major conflicts through confidence-building measures and increase peace-building through peace education and conscientization. This necessitates dialogue between parties in conflict, so that legitimate grievances can be addressed.

After the collapse of East European socialist states in 1991, there was an expectation that the nuclear threat would recede into the background. Recent developments show a new reliance on military strategies and technology. Recent strategic directives coming from the US Pentagon have served to create new fears and insecurities in the region. New developments in missile defense - National Missile Defense (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defense (TMD), if implemented, will almost certainly lead to a new arms race. The projection of military power as a method to confirm and protect economic hegemony was disparaged by the consultation as was the continuing arms sales and the purchase of new generations of weapons by countries in the region.

The consultation heard in a report by NCCJ that Japan is being pushed by the USA to assume a greater military role with support from significant sectors of Japanese society. Major financial resources are being transferred for US forces in Japan. There is pressure for Japan to amend its peace constitution and strengthen more directly its military role. Japan is gradually being strengthened in the new strategic scheme, causing alarm from neighbours who have not forgotten Japan's aggressive historical role in the entire region. In this regard the churches have been particularly courageous and prophetic in emphasizing non-violence as a means of securing peace and security for all.

Based on the conviction that conflict flash points can be more effectively addressed regionally, there is recognition that sub-regional and regional mechanisms and common security systems should be explored and encouraged.

The consultation nevertheless believed that in their ecumenical witness, churches have continued responsibility for peace, justice and security for the people. In group discussions, participants therefore sought to identify some common understandings about the threats which exist in their societies and in the region. They affirmed the desire to be instrumental in building bridges of caring humanity across the divides of ideology, politics and nation. They sought to find the parameters of a process by which to continue to consult together about alternative approaches to security in this region—alternatives that would replace reliance on nuclear weapons and military forces, with new people-based systems of security, in the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence.

Many of the threats to peace, justice and peoples security addressed at this consultation were experienced equally by all churches represented. However one source of conflict in the North-East Asia region - the tension across the Taiwan straits - gave rise to continuing disagreement.

Representatives from CCC and PCT expressed different understandings and agreed that the best way to resolve all the issues should be sought by peaceful means. Any attempt to resort to military violence can only endanger people's security in the region.

Recognizing the complexity and sensitivity of this issue, the consultation was unable to reach a consensus on how to resolve these differences. Participants agreed to continue ecumenical efforts to provide forums for this question to be discussed in a way which maintains the unity of the fellowship of the churches joined together in the World Council of Churches. It urged the wider ecumenical movement to keep these two churches in its prayers, and to seek every opportunity to promote exchanges and face-to-face encounters between them.

Participants hoped that through worship and prayer, and the sharing of their stories with one another, Christians from both sides of the Taiwan straits might enhance their fellowship as a first step towards discussing common concerns.