Korea: a welcome development

January 3, 2018

A fence decorated with ribbons carrying messages calling for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea

The government of South Korea has invited Pyongyang to talks about participating in next month’s Winter Olympics in a swift response to proposals by Kim Jong-un  to improve relations.

Removing negative remarks the news is that Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, has proposed a meeting on January 9.between high-ranking government officials of the two nations at the border village of Panmunjom, the only portion of the Korean demilitarized zone where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face.

“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” Cho Myoung-gyon said, “We think that the suspended inter-Korean communication channels should be immediately restored.”

Two Sisters monument on the outskirts of Pyeongyang. The two women symbolize the two Koreas and the desire for reunification.

Kim Jong-un emphasised the importance of improving relations between the two Koreas and referred to the possibility of direct talks between the two sides. He said: “The North and the South should promote bilateral contact . . . to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust.”

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, ordered his staff to act on Mr Kim’s offer of dialogue “Improving inter-Korean relations and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue are not separate from each other,” Mr Moon said, adding that South Korea would consult its allies ahead of any talks.

Mr Kim also expressed interest in sending a delegation to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month

North and South Korea have occasionally collaborated in sporting occasions, sending a joint team to an international table tennis tournament in 1991 and marching under a shared flag, though with separate teams, at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.

Kim added: “The Winter Olympic Games will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. We are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures.”

 A peace statue at the 3rd of 4 tunnels

 

Will reunification – the hope of many – symbolised above, be realised one day?

 

 

 

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On the steps of the MoD, Bruce Kent presents ‘peace prizes’ to activists from MEDACT, ICAN, WILPF and many others

December 12, 2017

This account was prompted by a tweet by Roslyn Cook (campaigning in support of the UN nuclear weapons ban treaty and a global nuclear weapon free zone) and an article in Beat (the “go to” multi-platform radio station for entertaining & informing young adults in the South East)

On the 10th December, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN, for its “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

On Saturday, the day before the award in Oslo, Bruce Kent hosted an ‘award ceremony’ at the MoD in celebration of the Nobel Peace Prize – which honours the tireless efforts of thousands of people across the world who brought about the nuclear ban.

His ‘peace prize’ was presented to activists from @Medact @ICAN_UK @WILPF and many others on the steps of the Ministry of Defence in London. Read a fuller account on an allied website.

Beat reported extracts from Bruce Kent’s address

Bruce, the vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), thinks that Britain is “uniquely placed” to become the first nuclear power to “come off the fence”. During a period of heightened nuclear tensions arising from North Korea’s military tests, said no one wins in nuclear war: “It is a very dangerous time because a man like Trump really is not sufficiently informed to know what he is dealing with. He is still living in a kind of cowboy world, where the one with the bigger gun somehow wins. Well nobody wins with a nuclear war – there is no winning. We have had precarious times before, like the Cuban crisis, but this is quite a dangerous one – granted his volatile method of talking and thinking.”

He said the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent would be a ‘gross waste of money’:

“They always talk about it as if it was just the building of the things. But if you add the building and the running of them it is something like £300 billion which could be spent on housing or hospitals, or social services, or overseas aid – that money does not get challenged.”

We note that in November 2012 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) outlined its projections for year-on-year spending up to 2016/17 (above).

Mr Kent said the UK does not have an independent nuclear weapon

The country depends entirely on the Americans to supply the missiles: “If America or Trump said no more missiles for Britain, in six months we would no longer have a nuclear arsenal. We would have the warheads, but we wouldn’t have anywhere to put them. We are well placed to be the first nuclear power to come off the fence.”

Asked if he thinks North Korea is a particular threat, Mr Kent said: “I think North Korea has nuclear weapons because of the world it lives in. It is looking out at the American fleet, it is looking at nuclear weapons pointed at it and it thinks to itself, just like Mrs May probably, that it is safer to have nuclear than not to have them. I think it is more dangerous for everybody. The answer to the North Korea problem is to get rid of American nuclear weapons from that area and de-target North Korea – not to encourage them to copy us. If nuclear weapons provide security there is no common sense in saying that other countries should not have them.”

MEDACT, ICAN and WILPF staged a ceremony which included the presentation of a handmade Nobel Peace Prize coin and speeches. They also called on the Government to sign up to the newly approved UN treaty that bans nuclear weapons, and staged a “die in”, where the 25 activists lay sprawled on the steps of the Ministry of Defence in London (above) to highlight the human cost of nuclear war.

 

 

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Pyeongchang hope: the Olympic Games of Peace

November 22, 2017

Ice-sculpture

In an interview with CNN, South Korean President Moon Jae-in recalled that the 1988 Seoul Games had played a part in ending the Cold War era by bringing countries together and expressed the hope that the 2018 Winter Olympics will help to build relationships in Asia.

He continued: “I hope that North Korea will also participate, which will provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation. And to this, we are closely consulting and cooperating with the IOC.”

North and South Korea regularly compete in friendlies and international competition, notably the Asian Cup. Earlier this year, a qualifier for the Asian Cup — held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang — attracted more than 40,000 fans to the Kim Il Sung Stadium. President Moon believes that, over the coming years, sport offers a chance for all nations in the to reconcile.:

“After the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, the 2020 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing. So in two years’ term, the Olympic Games will be held Korea, Japan and China and I believe that this can provide a good opportunity to build peace and cooperation within the Northeast Asian region”.

Dr Kyungjin Song, President of the Institute for Global Economics in Seoul, responded to a negative article in the Financial Times which focussed mainly on the number of unsold tickets and the threat of disruptive provocation from the North. She addressed the issue of direct and immediate benefits from such big international events by saying, “Economic benefits are both immediate and long-term. Intangible long-term benefits such as improved national image and institutional capacity are even greater” and reminding all concerned to “Beware of short-termism”.

CNN stresses the positive:

  • New infrastructure completed includes highways as well as a direct train line from the country’s main international airport to Pyeongchang and other host locations.
  • The government will also rollout a 5G mobile network around the venues. Facilities have been constructed on schedule.
  • Chinese diplomats close to the matter are alleged to have said that President Xi Jinping will confirm his attendance at the opening or the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, or both, at the forthcoming Korea-China bilateral summit in December.
  • Two North Korean figure skaters have qualified but the country’s organising committee has yet to decide whether it will participate.

“We’d all like to see North Korea participate,” says Mr Kim of the organising committee. “The more, the merrier.”

And many will wish Dr Kyungjin Song well as she urges Korea to redouble its efforts towards participation of the North Korean team to make the Pyeongchang Games the Olympic Games of Peace.

 

 

 

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Will Japan be ‘reset”, maintaining the pacifist principles enshrined in its constitution?

September 29, 2017

Following Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Japanese parliament for a snap election on October 22, Seiji Maehara, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, announced to his MPs that he would not field any candidates. He encouraged them to apply instead to run for a new party established by the governor of Tokyo only two days ago.

Tokyo’s governor,  Yuriko Koike, has announced the formation of the Party of Hope (Kibo no To) to contest the election She  laid out her party’s vision: to “reset” Japan, operating free of the interests of the political establishment and maintaining its pacifist principles, which are enshrined in its constitution.

Maehara’s proposal to shift allegiance to Koike’s movement was unanimously approved at a general meeting of DP MPs the same day. Under the plan, all DP candidates for the general election have been asked to abandon party membership and apply to join the official ticket of Kibo no To.

“I made this proposal after thinking about what would realize a change in power again,” Maehara told DP MPs during the meeting.  According to Maehara’s plan, the DP will give “full support” to Koike’s party in election campaigns, including financial support for former DP members running on the Kibo no To ticket.

During a TV interview on Wednesday, Koike said her party will choose applicants from the DP after close consideration of their views on constitutional revision and security issues.

 

 

 

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The Business Plan for Peace: Making Possible a World Without War”: Dr Scilla Elworthy

August 16, 2017

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2nd October, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL: 7.00 pm for 7.45 – 9.45

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Dr Philip Webber (chair), on behalf of the Martin RyleTrust, has given early notice of the second lecture in its annual series, presented jointly with Conway Hall Ethical Society, to be given this year by Dr Scilla Elworthy.

In 1982 Dr Elworthy founded the highly respected Oxford Research Group. Among her many other achievements, she set up Peace Direct, co-founded Rising Women Rising World, and has written numerous books on peace and related subjects. She is a member of the World Future Council and an advisor to ‘The Elders’. Dr Elworthy will draw on research for her forthcoming book to explore the forces that drive armed conflict and by contrast show what is already effective in building peace at both local and international levels.

She will detail a fully costed Business Plan for Peace. Finally she will reveal the impact that ordinary people can have in making a peaceful world possible, and how they can do it.

The Martin Ryle Lecture series is dedicated to maintaining Martin Ryle’s legacy in science, justice and peace. Sir Martin Ryle (1918-1984), FRS, Astronomer Royal, Nobel Laureate, was a physicist and radio astronomer, who played an important part in the development and use of radar, working mainly on countermeasures. From the mid-70s his concerns about the nuclear arms race and the misuse of science came to the fore. Towards the Nuclear Holocaust was published by the Menard Press in 1981. It combines factual information, analysis of the social and political condition of the world and a passionate call for rectification of this incredible situation. Ryle considered that nuclear power was irredeemably connected with nuclear weapons, via the production of plutonium. He used his engineering skill to analyse, develop and promote wind power.

Those who arrive early often spend time in the Red Lion Square Gardens, featured in Bradshaw’s interesting historical survey of the area, with photographs of  two peacebuilders: Fenner Brockway (above) and Bertrand Russell.

Booking for this year’s lecture is now open.

Tickets are available at
https://conwayhall.org.uk/event/scilla-elworthy/

Phone: 020 7405 1818

Website: https://conwayhall.org.uk

 

 

 

 

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Indian boxer’s message of peace

August 7, 2017

A stand-off in a remote frontier region beside the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has become increasingly tense. At the heart of the dispute are different interpretations of where the “trijunction” – the point where the three countries’ borders meet – precisely lies. China argues its territory extends south to an area called Gamochen, while India says Chinese control ends at Batanga La, further to the north.

Avoiding escalation

To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons, and the Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by “jostling” bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards – see video (Hindi commentary).

The current standoff began on 16 June when a column of Chinese troops accompanied by construction vehicles and road-building equipment began moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi, which sent forces to resist the Chinese advance.

On Thursday, China demanded India immediately remove troops from the border, accusing it of building up troops and repairing roads along its side of the border next to the Indian state of Sikkim.

 

The BBC reports that Vijender Singh, a middleweight Indian boxer, beat China’s Zulpikar Maimaitiali on points on Saturday to retain his WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title and take his opponent’s WBO Oriental super belt. But he dedicated his win to “India-China friendship”.

After the unanimous verdict in Mumbai, Singh returned to the ring, taking the microphone and saying: “I don’t want this title. I will give it (and the belt) back to Zulpikar.” He added: “I don’t want tension on the border. It’s a message of peace. That’s important.”

 

 

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As Jeremy Corbyn implied: “The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

June 7, 2017

It is the 50th anniversary week of the Six-Day War of 1967 when Israel seized 1,200 square water-rich kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria and later annexed it – though its right to this land has never been recognised by the international community.

Donald Macintyre, who lived in Jerusalem for many years and won the 2011 Next Century Foundation’s Peace Through Media Award, recalls in the Independent that fifty years ago Shlomo Gazit, head of the Israeli military intelligence’s assessment department, heard detailed reports of the destruction that morning of almost the entire Egyptian air force by Israeli jets – his 23-year-old nephew being among the few missing Israeli pilots. He then started work on a clear-sighted blueprint for the future of the territories Israel had occupied, arguing that “Israel should not humiliate its defeated enemies and their leaders.”

Jerusalem: an open city or UN headquarters?

There were then, as now, many leading Zionist Israelis who believed that occupation was a wholly wrong course. Gazit outlined plans for an independent, non-militarised Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip; the Old City of Jerusalem would become an “open city … with an international status resembling that of the Vatican”.

A British Quaker, Richard Rowntree, advocated moving the UN Headquarters from New York to Jerusalem and years later Sir Sydney Giffard, a former British Ambassador to Japan, presented the social and economic advantages to Israelis and Palestinians of moving the UN Headquarters to the vicinity of Jerusalem (Spectator link only accessible if account created). Whilst recognising difficulties and obstacles, Giffard felt that UN member states giving determined support to this project “could enable the UN to effect a transformation – both of its own and of the region’s character – of historic significance”.

But after 50 years the Palestinians, as Macintyre points out, “a resourceful and mainly well-educated population, are still imprisoned in a maze of checkpoints closures and military zones, deprived of civil and political rights and governed by martial law (denounced by Mehdi Hasan here, destruction of sewage system pictured above). And all this nearly three decades after Yasser Arafat agreed to end the conflict in return for a state on Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – 22% of historic Palestine (Even Hamas, so long one of many excuses for not reaching a deal, last month issued its qualified support for such an outcome)”.

“The West should reflect on its part in prolonging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

Under this heading, Macintyre points out that the US provides Israel with over $3bn (£2.3bn) a year in military aid and the EU implements trade agreements which exempt only the most flagrant economic activity in the settlements from its provisions, leading Benjamin Netanyahu to believe he can maintain the occupation with impunity.

He summarises the potential gains of a peace agreement for Israel: “full diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab world, an end to the growing perception of Israel as an apartheid state, the reduction of costs – moral and financial – to its own citizens of using a conscript army to enforce the occupation”.

Co-existence in Iran

In several Stirrer articles, opening with this one, Richard Lutz reports on his visits to Iran – as a Jew, albeit lapsed – and Roger Cohen’s account in the New York Times is not to be missed. He – like Lutz, “treated with such consistent warmth” in Iran, says, “It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity. Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric”.

As so many civilised Israelis and Palestinians work for peace, some details recorded here, and the settlement of Neve Shalom (above) shows what is possible, Macintyre ends by saying that it is not just the Israelis and the Palestinians who should be reflecting this week on the impact of what is surely the longest occupation in modern history:

“It is time for the Western powers to reflect on their part in prolonging a conflict which will never end of its own accord”.

 

 

 

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