PROK Position on the current crisis of the Korean peninsula

The Presbyterian Church of ROK that has been praying for peace in the Korean peninsula is now witnessing spreading signs of war and deepening economic crisis and conflict among citizens. We, all members of PROK deeply regret this situation and share our understandings and suggestions as follows.

Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven (Psalm 85: 10-11).

The Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (PROK) that has been praying for peace in the Korean peninsula is now witnessing spreading signs of war and deepening economic crisis and conflict among citizens. We, all members of PROK deeply regret this situation and share our understandings and suggestions as follows.

The Cheonan incident shocked the Korean peninsula and the world. Numerous suppositions about the cause of the incident emerged and the South Korean government collected and analyzed evidences for a couple of months. The government concluded that "a torpedo fired from a North Korean mini-submarine had sunken the warship Cheonan. The government subsequently announced a complete suspension of trade ties and exchanges in various areas with North Korea. The government also declared strong military measures such as invoking a self-defense right in case of military provocations by North Korea. In response to South Korea's decisive measures North Korea declared the entire shutdown of inter-Korean relations and the suspension of the non-aggression pact.

The extreme confrontation between the two Koreas has destroyed in a moment the frame of peaceful co-existence in the Korean peninsula that was built after almost twenty years of hard work and caused the vertical ascent of a possible war. The political instability of the Korean peninsula is becoming a major economic uncertainty getting interlocked with the economic crisis in Europe and the sharp devaluation of Korean Won and the decline of South Korean stock market. Above all this situation is dividing South Korean society causing confrontations and hostilities among people that make many conscious people deeply concerned.

There are many reasons including the Cheonan incident that have driven the Korean peninsula into the crisis of peace, economy and trust. However, we cannot but point out the South Korean government's heavy responsibility for responding to and handling the incident. The ways of identifying causes of an incident and developing options to respond it have to be based on not presumptions but objective scientific evidences. But the government's investigation and announcement of final results rather made people doubt the government's intention to conceal the essential evidences from the nation that could help reveal the substance of the Cheonan incident. The evidences presented by the government could not be easily understood relying on people's common sense. Above all the "unquestionable" evidences were not enough to prove the torpedo attack by a North Korean mini-submarine especially when South Korea and the US were conducting a joint military drill accompanied by world's best aegis weapon systems. The purpose of the government's investigation was to comfort the victims and their families, and seek preventive measures for future incidents. But we are rather facing a worst reality of the division of national opinion and economic crisis

We want to affirm three principles facing this overall crisis and present detailed suggestions to overcome the crisis.  

First, the government must reconsider excessive hard line polices toward North Korea. During the presidential transition President Lee Myung-Bak tried to abolish the Ministry of Unification that had the rank of vice presidential office and disregarded the importance of unification issues in the national politics. This understanding led to underestimating the peaceful relationship between the two Koreas that is regarded as one of the most prominent achievements of the two consecutive administrations of President Kim Dae-Jung and President Roh Moo-Hyun, and as a result, to realizing hardline policies toward North Korea. The truth of the Cheonan incident is not clear yet. But it is clear that the government's position is penetrating. At the same time, the government which monopolizes all the information about the incident is forcing people to accept the government's position unconditionally. The government does not permit people raising questions about the points that do not appeal to common sense and treats dissenting views and comments as anti-national activities bringing the ghost of military dictatorship back.

Second, the government must carefully listen to civil society and religious institutions criticizing that the government is unreasonably manipulating national security issues to win local elections on 2 June that will be the mid-term evaluation of the government. This wide-spread criticism is based on the facts that the government announced the investigation result on the day of the official beginning of campaigns for local elections and did not include the investigation result of the gas turbine that had been discovered in the previous day and could be the key to revealing the cause of the incident. In addition, President Lee made a statement to the nation on the Cheonan incident at the War Museum which was unusual and created a tension of possible war. We all know that the ultimate goal of real politics is to gain and sustain power. But we know, at the same time that any political power cannot be priority over the nation's peace and survival.

Third, we urge that the US government must take a more active action in investigating the incident and resolving this crisis peacefully. The Commander of the US-ROK Combined Forces who has the operational control power in time of war in the Korean peninsula might have been briefed the entire situation when the incident occurred. Based on the information both the South Korean and US governments announced immediately that the incident was not related to North Korea. However, the two governments suddenly reversed their agreed position and began to argue North Korea's involvement, and as a result, people began to paying attention to the background of this change of situation. The US government must reveal accurate information about the incident and answer people's questions and suspicions. The US has maintained a traditional friendly relationship with South Korea and we Koreans hope that the Obama administration which is distinct from the Bush administration that admired war can play an impartial role for peace in the Korean peninsula and the world. We want to emphasize that any national interest cannot come before truth and conscience.

We suggest the followings to restore peace in the Korean peninsula that is driving into catastrophe, to overcome economic crisis, and to rebuild trust between the two Koreas.

First, both South Korea and North Korea must overcome temptations to solve the problem with military power and resume talks immediately. We still have unhealed scars from the Korean War and it is a sin to even mention the possibility of war with any excuse. The two Korean governments therefore must revoke all the proclamations about the entire suspension of relationships and South-North economic and humanitarian collaborations must be continued under any circumstances.

Second, the South Korean government must honestly answer people's questions and suspicions about the investigation result. Citizens in this democratic country have a basic right to know everything clearly under any circumstances. As we experienced under the military dictatorship the government's forceful imposition of its conclusion on people will rather contribute to spreading rumors and destroying trust in society.

Third, a new international investigation team that is comprised of the members of the six party talks and can produce an internationally recognized investigation result must be organized. It is a big contradiction that the official investigation was carried out by the Ministry of Defense that was primarily responsible for the incident. It is also a cause of suspicion that the members of the international joint investigation team and their representations were not revealed. Therefore, a new investigation team that can be internationally recognized must be organized to verify the previous investigation led by the Ministry of Defense and a new investigation must be launched. This is a wise way to find out the cause of the incident and responsible people, and prevent similar incidents from recurring.

We, all members of the Presbyterian Church of ROK will maintain our attention to new developments of the situation and continue our prayer for peace, economic stability, and the restoration of trust in the Korean peninsula. We will also make all efforts for a better future of the Korean people in solidarity with conscientious citizens and diverse citizen groups. In addition, we will continue our efforts for revealing truth and restoring peace working together with fellow Christians from the World Council of Churches and Christian Conference of Asia who plan to visit South Korea soon to express solidarity with Korean people.

We pray earnestly that this disastrous situation resulted from the Cheonan incident must not be misused to divide the nation and spread war rhetoric. We hope this challenging situation can be transformed into an opportunity to build a stronger foundation for peace in the Korean peninsula and a more democratic society in South Korea. We believe that this is the most important way to mourn the victims of the Cheoan incident and contribute to peace in the Korean peninsula and the world. 

31 May 2010

Rev. Bae Tae-Jin
General Secretary