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Koreans Overseas Remember 6.15 Joint Declaration
Conference discusses struggle for peace and reunification of Korean Peninsula
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-17 01:58 (KST)   
Conference participants.

Though the Sunshine Policy that has officially guided the struggle for Korean Reunification since June 15, 2000 (6.15) may be under siege by the current government of South Korea, the US government, and the United Nations Security Council, it was very much alive at the Overseas Koreans Conference for Peace and Reunification of Korea held in Washington DC. The conference marking the 9th anniversary of the historic agreement between the Heads of State of North and South Korea, was held on June 12-14.

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It was with a sigh of relief that I left New York on Friday morning June 12 to travel to Washington DC where the June 15th Joint Korea Declaration Overseas Committee for Peace and Reunification of Korea was hosting this three day event.

At noon, in New York City on Friday, June 12, the United Nations Security Council passed SC Resolution 1874 imposing harsh sanctions against North Korea. The voice of reason has been drowned out in a sea of "waiting for Obama" sentiment, giving the Obama administration license to continue and even outdo the anti-democratic policies of the Bush administration.

For example, Obama's administration has increased the US troop level in Afghanistan, and encouraged extensive military actions displacing the civilian population in Pakistan. But when it comes to North Korea, government policy has been especially harsh. This has been documented in an earlier article in OhmyNews International: US Policy Toward North Korea Fails to Engage

The presentations and discussion at the 6.15 anniversary conference helped to put what is happening at the UN into the bigger framework of US-Korean relations and North Korea-South Korea relations.(1) This broad focus is one where several generations of Koreans have grown up since the rivalry between US and Soviet Union following World War II, imposed arbitrary separation on the Korean Peninsula.

"The separation itself is violent," explained Park Soh-eyn, the first speaker at the Saturday morning panel, who came to the conference from Germany. She observed that the June 15 Declaration had a significant symbolic effect. It provided a common approach toward reunification for both North Korea and South Korea. After 60 years of separation, just to be able to look at the North Korean and South Korean flags in the same space was touching, she recalled.

Part of the impact in South Korea of the 6.15 Joint Declaration was to legalize discussions of reunification which had been previously forbidden and criminalized by the National Security Law. The 6.15 Declaration had also broadened the reunification movement so that people from different sectors of society participated, including diverse religious organizations, and diverse non religious organizations including conservative and progressive political groups. Park Soh-eyn pointed out that there has been many exchanges between the Koreas since the 6.15 Joint Declaration.

Park Soh-eyn offered the analogy that if we consider the separation like a disease with its harmful effects, the reunification process provides a medication, with curing qualities.

On Friday evening there had been a short set of talks at the dinner held at a Korean restaurant in Tysons Corner, Virginia. US Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa, who is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, gave a short presentation about his support for the Sunshine Policy and his respect for the work done by former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.

US Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa.

I was invited to present a greeting at the dinner. I described how as a featured writer for OhmyNews International, I have reported on UN events, particularly focusing on the frustrations among delegates and others with the actions of the UN Security Council. I noted the widespread feeling that there is a need for an English language publication to counter media myths.

Another talk at the Saturday Conference was presented by Kim Chang-soo, who had been on the South Korean National Security Council in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Kim Chang-soo reviewed some of the recent events in the relations between the two Koreas. President Lee Myung-bak has not recognized the June 15, 2000 or October 4, 2007 agreements with North Korea negotiated by the previous two governments. The Lee regime, in abandoning the Sunshine policy, turned to criticizing North Korea as well as conducting military exercises with the US that are viewed as hostile activities by North Korea.

The media has focused on internal problems in North Korea, failing to take into account broader issues and context. North Korea has indicated it is willing to talk about the nuclear issues with the US on a one to one basis, which would include talking about US protection of South Korean under the US nuclear umbrella. Kim Chang-soo proposed that North Korea is trying to get diplomatic recognition from the US as well as to address its economic issues. But the current world media focuses on problems with North Korea, rather than why the US is not doing anything to encourage negotiations.

Kim Chang-soo suggested that the upcoming summit between Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama was important and has the potential to have serious military implications. He cautioned against Obama failing to realize that Lee Myung-bak is considered as a repressive dictator and that there is a long tradition of the US government supporting dictatorial regimes in South Korea. Such support for Lee Myung-bak by the US government would remind the people of South Korea of this past history, including the resentment that spread across South Korea in 2002 when two middle school girls were killed by a US military tank. Kim Chang-soo advised Obama to keep this all in mind when he meets the President of South Korea.

Kim Chang-soo offered some observations about the current tense situation created between the US and North Korea by US support for the harsh Security Council Resolution that has recently passed at the UN. He referred to several analogous periods when the US made progress in normalizing relations. One such example was when China normalized relations with the US in the early 1970s. Similarly despite the hostility of the Bush administration years, negotiations with North Korea began in earnest toward the latter part of Bush's tenure in office.

The current sanctions, against North Korea, are problematic. They even go beyond the mandate of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) that in itself has the potential to provoke military encounters. The Security Council's sanctions present a contradiction with the Armistice Agreement between North Korea and the UN Command, which forbids one side from blockading the other side. The provision to forcibly inspect North Korean ships contradicts the terms of the Armistice, as do the provisions cutting off financial interactions with North Korea.

Kim Chang-soo observed that Obama's policy is similar to Bush's policy. We need to ask for a fresh policy approach from the Obama administration, he suggested. He advised that there is a need for a very special high level envoy to go to North Korea to change the direction. Also he proposed that an exchange of cultural events and people to people interactions could be helpful.

For the upcoming meeting between the US and South Korean presidents, Kim Chang-soo proposed that relations with North Korea need to address not only denuclearization, but also diplomatic recognition, inter Korea exchanges, and forging peace in Northeast Asia. Kim Chang-soo advised that Lee Myung-bak recognize the significance of the June 15 Declaration and continue to implement that spirit and to promote this spirit when he meets with Obama, rather than a tough military approach to North Korea.

Ronda Hauben speaks at conference.

In thinking about the impact of the events at the conference, it seems that US and North Korean relations are at a particularly low point with the danger of a military confrontation. At such a time, it is particularly important to consider the achievements of the Sunshine Policy and the 6.15 Joint Declaration as a means to support peace and reunification, rather than war, on the Korean Peninsula.

The continuing tragedy of the two Koreas is a serious problem for the world, not just for the Korean people. Also the US government's refusal to agree to a peace treaty to end the Korean war means that there is a particularly dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula. The Armistice is but a temporary truce, not a means of more permanently preventing a return to military action.

A number of conversations at the conference, however, emphasized that people in Korea have faced many hardships over the years so that this difficult time is not unusual for them.

One speaker on Friday evening summing up this sentiment admitted, "I feel sometimes hopeless." But along with this sentiment, he explained his belief that there is a basis for hope. He reminded those at the conference, "But our people have been through so many hardships...We shouldn't be passive. As our voices get bigger, we'll get more power. We shouldn't appeal to Lee Myung-bak. We should appeal to the people."

A version of this article appears on my blog.


1. Most of the talks presented at the conference and dinner were in Korean. This account of the conference is based on translations from the Korean into English provided by several colleagues.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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