PyeongChang? A “new name” for peace

by Jonathan Frerichs
UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International

PyeongChang, South Korea, is the home of last year’s Winter Olympics. Now it’s the home of a “Global Peace Forum” too.

There’s a connection. Careful preparations and hockey diplomacy at the 2018 Olympics signaled an opportunity. They touched off a year of inter-Korean dialogue, summitry and other successes, after years of nuclear confrontation and belligerent rhetoric. The Olympic Organizing Committee decided to cap the year by inviting more than 500 people to PyeongChang. From 9-11 February 2019, advocates, academics and activists from 50 countries debated the synergies between peace, sports, sustainable development, gender equality, climate justice and disarmament.

The provincial governor and local mayor, two national cabinet ministers and the head of the Korea International Cooperation Agency took part in the ceremonies. More than one host official declared with a smile, “PyeongChang is a new name for peace.”

Pax Christi International was among the international civil society co-sponsors of the gathering. The Catholic peace movement contributed to panels on the UN Secretary General’s recent Agenda for Disarmament, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 and inter-religious cooperation for peace.

The PyeongChang Global Peace Forum ended by adopting three forward-looking resolutions.

“Immediately declare the end of the Korean War and negotiate and sign a peace treaty,” says a resolution on the peace process in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. It calls for the forthcoming summit in Vietnam between the US and North Korean leaders to issue a “concrete declaration of the end of the Korean War”.

The resolution also affirms the relevance of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “in building a durable peace in Northeast Asia”.

A more general PyeongChang Declaration for Peace 2019: “Sustainable Future for All: Ending War, Guaranteeing Peace” notes that the 1999 Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century “must live on”. Like the Hague Appeal, on which it hopes to build next year, the PyeongChang declaration says “it is time to end all wars” and calls peace “an inherent human right for all”.

The South Korean host organizations plan to convene another forum in 2020 to debate and adopt a “PyeongChang Agenda for Peace 2030”.


A commentary on the Panmunjom Declaration

by Caesar D’Mello
Pax Christi Australia

Very few events in the life of the Asia-Pacific region during the last few decades match in significance the hand-in-hand walk of the leaders of North and South Korea over the strip of land at the 38th parallel on 27 April 2018. While a certain level of cynicism is to be expected, and self-interest no doubt played a part, the symbolism of that action is astonishing nevertheless, and its implications potentially far-reaching.

Who could have thought that after a bitterly fought Korean War (1950-1953) between the two Koreas, and one involving China and the US, the world would witness such a moment? To truly appreciate what might have been considered unlikely by most till the day it actually occurred, one only needs to picture the setting in which it took place. After a ferocious war that generated no peace but an uneasy and ever volatile stalemate, the enmity between the two sides remained frozen in institutionalised structures and hostilities designed to perpetuate the red hot anger of a war in which more than 3 million sacrificed their lives in vain. The land on either side of the 4 kilometre-wide strip of land that has come to be known as the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) is a testament to hate: ringed by barbed wire, saturated with land mines, under surveillance by human and all forms of electronic eyes, supported by the Korean forces on either side, with the might of the two superpowers providing additional military muscle. The line over which Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in crossed, metaphorically and physically entering each other’s forbidden territory, was situated right at the heart of this menacing stretch of land least the oriented to good relations. However, their gesture, and the liberating exchange between them, despite the implausibility, demonstrated the capacity of human beings to overcome the most odious of circumstances.

Time will tell how this unprecedented event will play out into prospects and outcomes for peace for the two peoples of Korea and the world at large, but for now it is a moment worth celebrating. Even if re-unification of the Korean nation is a long time coming or does not eventuate eventually, at least for the immediate future the ground has shifted to allow a move from a prism of continually stoked confrontation through which to see each other to one of friendship and optimism for peace. Trivial though it may seem, the decision, for instance, by North Korea to synchronise their clocks with South Korea’s is potent symbolically, and, in its own way, a good portent for the future.

In light of the multiple positives that can be identified in the Panmunjom summit, Pax Christi Asia-Pacific asserts that one cannot just view the developments of a few days ago as if looking at goldfish in a fishbowl without relevance to the context of the wider region. To say that the Asia-Pacific region is awash with conflicts would be an understatement. From Iran and Afghanistan all the way to Papua New Guinea and beyond, governments, defence forces, warring groups, and their advocates are bogged down in hostility and combat. They are now challenged to find inspiration for ways forward applicable to their own situations to tread the path of peace from the actions in Korea of two of the most implacable of adversaries.

It is to be welcomed that just as the two Korean leaders were the centre of attention of the world’s media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jin Ping of China were participating in talks to reduce the tension between their two giant countries that had been exacerbated by skirmishes on the borders between India, China and Bhutan just a few recent months earlier. Pax Christi Asia-Pacific acknowledges this as a commendable step, and hopes that it will lead to many confidence and trust-building deliberations as a precursor to lasting peace.

Another major conflict that has been entrenched in prejudice and intransigence for over seven decades is that between India and Pakistan over Kashmir that has already resulted in three wars with many killed. Its gravity is now further deepened as the two sides are nuclear-armed with the ability to inflict massive devastation on each other’s people, whose welfare and safety should be paramount in decision-making. How long should we wait before we can see a generous, visionary, mutually benefiting resolution on this front?

The Asia-Pacific is teeming with internal conflicts in big and small countries, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, PNG, Fiji, to name a few countries. Forward looking leadership, in the spirit of Panmunjom, is urgently called for in these countries.

Pax Christi Asia Pacific is concerned over the opportunity costs of the focus, energy, and resources dedicated to a war or conflict drained away from more important issues, such as the quality of life. It is indefensible that the vast majority of the poor miss out as a result. The extent of poverty pervading many parts of Asia-Pacific where conflict rages is unjustifiable, and it is morally urgent that widespread inequity be addressed effectively. This has been agreed to at a global level. The world’s governments, including Asian and Pacific governments, by unanimously adopting the UN Sustainable Development Goals – SDG’s ( have accepted that a world wherein a great number of people are unable to even reach or do just reach the first level in Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, encompassing food, water, shelter, clothing, and safety, is an indictment of the prevailing system that harbours wasteful confrontations. While external and internal security is indeed the duty of governments, they have to balance this transparently and imaginatively with the obligation to look after those who miss out on the wherewithal for survival and a better life.

A Just Peace emphasising mutual respect, healing and reconciliation is far more productive of a dignified living for all rather than the shadow of conflict. However, for this to evolve requires proactive leadership from both disputing sides. While we mark the Panmunjom Summit as a historic landmark in human affairs, the persistent efforts of the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, to cultivate an environment for peace should also be noted. The tree of peace that both leaders planted during their Summit speaks volumes in terms of the human ability to fashion a better world. Other leaders in history have shown that this is possible, including an iconic one in recent memory, namely Nelson Mandela, whose 100th birth anniversary falls this year.

Caesar D’Mello is a member of Pax Christi Australia and has for many years been engaged in concerns of development, peace, and climate change. This commentary is released by the Pax Christi-Asia Pacific network, consisting of sections and affiliated members of Pax Christi International in the Asia-Pacific region. For more information, please contact:

* Photo from The Nation,

The North-South Summit: Why not hope?

by Nick Mele
Pax Christi International Washington, D.C. Working Group

Almost all coverage of the North-South Korean Summit on April 27, 2018, cautioned against expecting too much to come from the meeting of the two leaders or the joint statement released at the conclusion of their meeting. I understand the reasons for skepticism but I also hear the voice of a South Korean defense expert telling me almost 30 years ago that the only true statement about the North-South divide is that when it ends, it will be a total surprise. Those words resonated as I watched the video of Chairman Kim Jong-un inviting President Moon Jai-in to step across the line of stones marking the border of the two entities. Their little dance was a surprise to everyone, and their statement offers reason to hope for more.

The statement’s first set of points concern the improvement of North-South relations and connections. Much of this has been said before, but some good came of previous dialogues, including a number of carefully orchestrated family visits across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Other agreements are new though built on past progress, like the pledge to open a joint liaison office in “the Gaeseong region”, that is, the historically and culturally significant former capital of the Koryo dynasty which is a center of light industry and has been an area of South Korean investment in the North. The idea of dialogue between the two Koreas began to take shape in 1972 when South Korea’s Park Chung Hee secretly sent the head of the Korean intelligence apparatus to the North, the first in a series of meetings and summits leading up to this latest one. Previous agreements opened up the North to trade and investment from the South, allowed limited visits of families, and addressed other steps; each led to further dialogue. Inter-Korean relations have improved since 1972, and we should remember that progress came through talks like the latest summit.

The second point seeks to address ongoing military tensions along the demarcation line between North and South Korea. Propaganda broadcasts and leaflet scattering have stopped in the past, but the statement also promises frequent meetings between military authorities up to the two countries’ Defense Ministers. It again builds on past progress and could change the dynamic of the Military Armistice Commission meetings regularly held at Panmunjom by offering a second, Korea-to-Korea channel for dealing with disputes involving military personnel and actions.

The third area of agreement is to end the Korean War. The leaders of the two Koreas committed to work toward a peace treaty and to build trust through a series of confidence building measures, such as the proposed liaison office, the reopening of a rail line across the DMZ, and step-by-step disarmament. Commentators critiqued the idea of a separate peace, but neglected to mention that the joint statement addresses that issue directly: “…South and North Korea agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the War and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.”

Finally, the statement talks about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The history of efforts to negotiate with North Korea is not as hopeless or one-sided as it is usually portrayed—the North Korean government has halted its program in the past, for example. From the initial White House reaction to the statement and the summit, it seems there is an opening for progress on the nuclear issue. Moreover, if the U.S. agrees to a peace treaty and offers written assurance that it will not peremptorily attack North Korea, it would support the inter-Korean cooperation and confidence-building measures outlined in the joint statement. So, with eyes open, why not hope for continued progress toward peace?

After twenty five years as a U.S. diplomat, Nick Mele retired to pursue peace outside of government. A faith-based activist, he has worked as a nonviolence trainer for Pax Christi USA; as a founding staff member for the Nonviolent Peaceforce; and as the Pax Christi representative to the Inter-Religious Conference on Article 9, an international group working to reduce militarism and armaments in the Asia-Pacific region.