RFBF President Brian Grim will travel to Korea October 8-10 to participate in the Third International Conference on the Role of Christians for Peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia (see his interview with the Catholic Times of Korea below).
See Conference summary: Press Release 3rd International Conference CINAP
The conference is organized by the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Northeast Asia, located on the border between North and South Korea. Grim will also visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the Joint Security Area (JSA, often referred to as the Truce Village or Panmunjom), the only portion of the DMZ where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face.
Grim will then be in Japan in November to continue preparations for a major peace event called Dare to Overcome to be held on the eve of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. This is a follow-up to the business and peace festival held last March 2018 in Seoul on the eve of the PyeongChang Paralympics. Grim states:
“We are especially interested in business leaders from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other faiths participating in the event, because when business people, motivated by their faith, engage in peace making, they also bring many powerful resources to the task. There has been a movement to build bridges with North Korea through business, and I believe the same efforts will also be beneficial in build better relations between Korea and Japan.”
Catholic Times Interview Dr. Brian Grim (RFBF)
Question 1. In South Korea, Catholics and Protestants statistically count between 14 and 15 million people, making up a large part of the population. I heard Dr. Grim have been to Korea many times. Do you think that Korean Christians are doing their part in improving relations between Korea and Japan or in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula?
Without doubt, Korean Christians are active in both improving relations between Korea and Japan as well as in working for peace on the Korean Peninsula. They have been propelled forward by the clear call of Jesus within the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The Third International Conference on the Role of Christian for Peace on Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, is an excellent example not only of Christian involvement, but increasing Christian involvement in regional peacemaking.
Question 2. The four major powers around the Korean Peninsula are generally called the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The United States, China, and Russia have a significant Influence on peace on the Korean Peninsula, but many people think Japan has no less Influence. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula for 35 years, and both countries are still in conflict. What is the unique status of Japan among the four great powers around the Korean peninsula?
I do a lot of work in Japan and am there frequently. One of the voices in Japan for peace and reconciliation is the former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Last year at my foundation’s biannual Global Business and Peace Forum, he spoke eloquently of the importance of being able to apologize for past wrongs. Of course, his view is not as popular in Japan as it is in Korea and China, but it is an example of the potential that a humble approach has for overcoming pains of the past. You can see his comments below.
Question 3. Generally speaking, the declaration of the Korean War and the peace agreement are necessary to realize peace on the Korean Peninsula. As a scholar studying religious freedom around the world, do you think that North Korea, which lacks religious freedom, and South Korea that enjoys religious freedom can achieve the declaration of Korean War and a peace agreement?
My father was a GI based in Cheorwon 철원군 during the war (see picture below). In fact, I exist because of the war – my father met my mother when he was stationed in Georgia for training before he deployed to the front. He is now 86, and looks back on those days with pride in helping South Korea maintain independence and freedom, including religious freedom. He would sometimes go to a Korean church near his base. Of course, Christianity was strongest in North Korea before the war. So, there is a sort of unnatural religious situation today that I believe will be corrected when peace comes. Indeed, Christianity is even part of the ruling Kim family’s background. So, we have a prayer for hope.
Question 4. The North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the key of the Korean Peninsula issue. The negotiations between North Korea and the United States are also a tug of war over the North Korea’s nuclear weapons. What do you think are the preconditions for resolving the North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue?
Nuclear weapons provide North Korea with a potent defense against an external military takeover. The regime will not give them up until there is peace that guarantees the regime’s longevity. I believe that one step that the North could take to show that they are a trusted partner for peace would be to grant true religious freedom.
Question 5. Recently, it was reported that Pope Francis can visit North Korea. Do you think there is a possibility of the pope’s visit to North Korea? What changes can we expect from North Korea if it happens? If there is no possibility of the event, what do you think is the reason?
The question that Pope Francis is weighing is whether a visit to the North would do more harm than good. It could and would be used as a propaganda victory for the regime. Can he move them towards peace in concrete terms while there? I tend to think yes, if he has concrete demands that must be met before he arrives, such as opening ten historic Christian churches in North Korea and releasing Christians from prisons. North Korea responds to negotiation, so why not give it a try?
Question 6. South and North Korea have been living apart for 74 years. Many people say that the German religious community contributed greatly to German reunification. What do you think is the main point in German reunification to achieve Korean reunification?
I walked through the Berlin Wall the day that it collapsed back on November 9, 1989. The current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor who served in East Germany. Therein lies a big difference. Despite East Germany being communist, they still allowed religion to function, albeit under tight government control. Because of that, there were natural bridges of faith that could be reconstructed. In North Korea, there is no such parallel. So, the model would be different. One avenue forward can be high level engagement such as a visit by Pope Francis to fight for the reestablishment of an open religious community in the North.
Question 7. In many parts of the world, there are various examples of conflict between the same country or people. I would appreciate if you could pick a representative example that can be a model in resolving the disputes on the Korean Peninsula and explain why.
Cyprus is another country divided into the Republic of Cyprus, which is mainly Christian Orthodox, and a northern region controlled by Muslim Turkish sympathizers. The division is largely sustained because of Turkey’s support for the breakaway region. Similarly, North Korea is significantly supported by China and to a lesser extent Russia. Of course, the South has the U.S. as an ally. Thus, just like in Cyprus, a lasting solution can only come when the powers external to the country itself also are fully committed to achieving a unified peace.
Question 8. Please tell what you want to ask the Korean church.
I would like the Korean church to join my foundation in a major peace event on the eve of the next Paralympic Games in Tokyo on 23-25 August 2020, called Dare to Overcome.
This is a follow-up to the peace festival we held last March 2018 in Seoul on the eve of the PyeongChang Paralympics. We are especially interested in business leaders from Christian and Buddhist faiths participating in the event, because when business people, motivated by their faith, engage in peace making, they also bring many powerful resources to the task. There has been a movement to build bridges with North Korea through business, and I believe the same efforts will also be beneficial in build better relations between Korea and Japan.