Women, on Peace in Northeast Asia



By Nam Yoon In-soon

Executive Chairman, Korean Women’s Association United




With the recent standstill in inter-Korean relations, there are concerns that South Korea’s role in the Six-Party Talks may be weakened. Although the North Korean nuclear issue is progressing within the framework of the Six-Party Talks, the Lee Myung-bak government, since its inauguration in February 2008, has called for the North to first dismantle its nuclear weapons, thereby driving the inter-Korean relationship into a standstill and weakening the ROK’s role and voice within the Six-Party framework. Seoul should reconsider adopting a policy where it foolishly and willingly gives up its role just as the multilateral effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem peacefully is about to reap good results.


Amidst this situation, it is truly meaningful that women’s group representatives, women lawmakers and experts from Japan, China, Russia, the U.S. and the ROK, who all yearn forpeace in Northeast Asia, are gathering to seek the role of respective countries in resolving the North Korean nuclear problem and establishing peace in the region. Taking the Northeast Asia Women’s Peace Conference as an opportunity, we hope the participating countries will carry out their measures to resolve the nuclear problem promptly, and North-South relations will shift to a peace regime.


This paper aims to discuss the North Korea policy of the Lee Myung-bak government and its problems, and the history and challenges of women’s movement in Korea in the effort to establish peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula.


1. Historical Changes in Inter-Korean Relations


After liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, the Korean Peninsula was first divided when the North and the South established their independent governments in 1948. Since the conclusion of the 1953 armistice to temporarily end the 1950 Korean War, the two sides have lived divided until today. The East-West d?tente in the early 1970s also brought about changes in inter-Korean relations. President Park Jeong-hee initiated the inter-Korean Red Cross talks in 1972, and for the first time, the two sides adopted the July 4th North-South Joint Statement, through which the three principles of national unification (self-reliance, peace, national solidarity) were announced. With the collapse of the Cold War structure in the latter half of the 1980s, inter-Korean relationship took an important turn. Although intermittent, dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang continued, such as the 1991 Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation.


During this time, South Korean civilians were not allowed to visit the North. But in 1989, Lim Soo-kyung visited Pyongyang as a representative of the National Conference of University Student Councils and returned south via the DMZ. The event marked the formal beginning of unification movement on the Korean Peninsula, despite efforts to repress the movement. When North Korea suffered from heavy flooding and food shortage in 1997, a national drive to help ourbrothers in the North began in the South. With the establishment of the People’s Government in 1998, Seoul’s North Korea policy shifted from confrontation to reconciliation and cooperation, and the historic June 15th Joint Declaration was adopted in 2000. Through the Joint Declaration, the two Koreas agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, promote cooperation and exchanges in economic, civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and other fields, and allow exchange visits by separated family members and relatives. The June 15th Declaration was another turning point in inter-Korean relations, which led to various and active exchanges, both governmental and non-governmental. The Participatory Government, established in 2002, adopted the policy of peace and prosperity,and carried out specific projects for economic cooperation, such as the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. In October of 2007, the Inter-Korean Summit Declaration was adopted.


2. Inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak Government in 2008, and the Current Situation on Unification/Peace


The present Lee Myung-bak government is pursuing an inter-Korean relationship of mutual benefits and common prosperity, on the foundation of the past governments’ policies of ‘reconciliation and cooperation’and ‘peace and prosperity’ during the last ten years. Not seeing any promise from the South on implementing the agreements of the June 15th Declaration and the October 4th Summit Declaration, Pyongyang declared that it would ‘embrace the U.S. while sidelining South Korea’ and has stopped dialogue with Seoul. Tourist exchange is also at a standstill since the shooting and death of a South Korean tourist at Mt. Geumgang, and civilian exchanges have also stopped. However, because the nuclear issue, which is an important variable in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula, is gradually progressing, inter-Korean relations should also be developed towards a foundation of peace within the wider international trend.


1) North Korean Nuclear Problem and Inter-Korean Relations


○ Current State of North Korean Nuclear Problem (2008, Kim Seong-bae)


- After the second North Korean nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002, the concerned countries established the Six-Party Talks and, through focused consultations, concluded the September 19th Joint Statement, which stipulates for the first time that Pyongyang would dismantle its nuclear programs.

- Right after the September 19thJoint Statement, the BDA financial sanction problem and the North’s nuclear testing led to another crisis. But the parties overcame the crisis and took the initial step to implement the September 19th Statement by adopting the February 13th Agreement. The agreement stipulated the deadline for Pyongyang’s nuclear declaration and disablement (December 31, 2007) and the corresponding measures to be taken by the other parties concerned.

- Although North Korea missed the deadline for declaring its nuclear programs, intense negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington (April 8th Singapore Agreement) enabled an indirect breakthrough in the UEP and Syrian nuclear cooperation issues.

- The second-phase actions (on implementation of the Joint Statement) drew near to a close with North Korea declaring its nuclear programs, and the U.S. announcing that it would lift the application of Trading with the Enemy Act on the North and remove it from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (June 26).

- Almost six years after the second nuclear crisis erupted, the foundation for starting the third-phase actions for "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear plans," as stipulated in the September 19th Joint Statement,was established.

- The foreign ministers of the Six Parties convened at the ARF (July 22-24).


○ North Korean Nuclear Problem and Inter-Korean Relations (2008, Kim Geun-shik)


- Maintaining and developing the inter-Korean relationship functions as a safety valve against the nuclear problem and, at the same time, a minimum necessary condition for progress on the nuclear issue.

? The North-South relationship eased rising tensions on the Peninsula and acted as a safety valve whenever there were confrontations within the Six-Party Talks.

? When negotiation progressed within the Six-Party framework, the inter-Korean relationship facilitated agreements between Pyongyang and Washington, and induced the North to act constructively.

? During the long-term standstill of the Six-Party Talks in 2005, the inter-Korean relationship enabled the June 17th meeting, thereby drawing North Korea back to the negotiating table. It is important to have a virtuous cycle in which progress in North-South relations contributes to resolving the nuclear problem, and concurrently, progress in the Six-Party Dialogue contributes to further improvement of the bilateral relationship.


- The stalemated inter-Korean relationship is weakening South Korea’s role in the process of resolving the nuclear problem.

? When discussion on establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula formally begins in the future, South Korea’s position will be weak if its relationship with the North continues to be deadlocked.

? By reviving the bilateral relationship, the ROK government should actively engage in changes that are occurring on and around the Peninsula.


2) Lee Myung-bak Government’s North Korea Policy: Contents, Problems and Tasks (2008, Kim Geun-shik)


○ Direction of the North Korea policy: denuclearization, openness, 3000

- Denuclearization: North Korea should first abandon its nuclear weapons; without progress on the nuclear issue, independent progress in the bilateral relationship is virtually impossible.

- Openness: North Korea will be asked to improve its human rights record, and reciprocity will be emphasized.

- 3000: South Korea will help raise North Korea’s per capita income to $3000.


○ Problems of the North Korea policy

- The Lee Myung-bak government’s North Korea policy has only catchphrases, such as ‘reciprocity’, ‘linkage to the North Korean nuclear issue’, ‘improvement of human rights situation’, ‘U.S.-ROK cooperation’, and no specific contents.

- There is emphasis on strict reciprocity of ‘give and take’, and even humanitarian aid to the North has stopped.

- The idea is to link inter-Korean economic cooperation with the level of denuclearization and openness. Thus, if Pyongyang does not budge, the Lee government will not be able to start anything.


○ Challenges in the North Korea policy

- Taking the progress in the nuclear issue as an opportunity, the currently deadlocked inter-Korean relationship should be restored. - The ROK government should abide by the agreements under the June 15th Joint Declaration, and show commitment to fulfilling the October 4th Summit Declaration.

- It should resolve the Mt. Geumgang tourist shooting incident prudently, and revive inter-Korean dialogue that has since stopped.

- Seoul should provide food, fertilizer and other humanitarian assistance without condition.

- The agreements under the October 4thSummit Declaration should be carried out to establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

- The ROK government should seek out a new and more active role within the Six-Party framework.


3. History of Efforts for Unification/Peace in ROK Women’s Movement


Until just a decade ago, South Korean women were rather disinterested in the issue of unification. But over the course of the past ten years, continuous exchanges between the women of the two Koreas have led even South Korean women belonging to conservative groups to no longer define North Korea as an enemy but rather a partner for cooperation. Although women’s voice in the unification movement is still not strong, a 30% women’s quota has been institutionalized within the South Korean Committee on Implementation of the June 15th Joint Declaration.


Moreover, with the progressive women’s movement at the forefront, various activities to promote inter-Korean women’s exchanges are taking place, such as projects to support North Korean women and children, promotion of peace on the Peninsula and in the world, enhancement of women’s participation in unification/foreign policy, expansion of peace education and peace culture, etc.


Aside from continuing these activities, women’s movement in South Korea will have to come up with specific programs for peaceful unification, such as presenting women’s point of view in unification efforts so that differences can be understood and embraced, and conflicts can be mediated.


1) Inter-Korean Women’s Exchanges


○ Forum on "Peace in Asia and the Role of Women" (1991 to 1993, in Tokyo, Seoul, Pyongyang, Tokyo)


○ Inter-Korean Women’s Solidarity to Resolve the Comfort Women Issue (1993~)

- North Korean participation in the 3rd Asia Solidarity Conference on Comfort Women organized by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (1995)

- North-South-Japan trilateral conference on comfort women and women’s rights issues (1998)

- North-South-Japan discussion on comfort women issue (2002, Pyongyang)


○ Inter-Korean women’s cooperation through provision of assistance and humanitarian aid to the North (1997~)

- "Sharing Food, Sharing Love" campaign: 26 tons of powdered milk sent to North Korean children (1997)

- Campaign to send undergarments to North Korean children (2001) - Fund-raising to help victims of Ryongchon disaster (2004)

- Fund-raising to help North Korean flood victims (2006)


○ Exchanges

- Inter-Korean women’s meeting and discussion held during the June 15th and August 15th joint national festivals (2001 to 2008)

- Establishment of the Women’s Headquarters of the North-South Joint Overseas Event Preparation Committee for the Implementation of the June 15th Joint Declaration

- 2002 North-South Women’s Unification Convention (Mt. Geumgang), 2005 North-South Women’s Unification Event (2005)

- North-South Women Representatives’Conference (2006 and 2008, Mt. Geumgang)


2) Peace-building Movement

○ Anti-war peace movement

- Various activities opposing the dispatch of troops to Iraq (2004~)

- Fact-finding and response to the death of middle school girls hit by a USFK armored vehicle (2002)


○ Expanding peace education and peace culture (on-going campaign)

- Fostering instructors of conflict mediation and expansion of related education

- Fostering peace education leaders through the Peace Education Academy

- Composing songs and producing children’s plays and touring performances on the theme of peace


3) Demand for Wider Women’s Participation in Unification-Related Policy Making


○ Seek 50% women’s participation in government committees related to unification, national defense and foreign affairs


○ Press for the establishment of a women’s policy department under the Ministry of Unification ○ Call for gender impact assessment of unification, foreign affairs and national defense policies (calling for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325)



4. Unification/Peace-Related Tasks of ROK Women’s Movement


Women’s peace movement in South Korea has, to date, involved diverse and dynamic activities, and more women have become interested in unificationand peace. Most women, however, are still disengaged from these issues. Globally, it is becoming evident that women in conflict zones suffer from serious and sometimes even fatal conditions.Accordingly, as long as the Korean Peninsula remains a dangerous conflict zone, peace for women and children cannot be maintained. Women, who have a high sensibility for peace, will have to participate proactively in the effort towards unification on the Korean Peninsula and peace in Northeast Asia.


1) Urge the government to implement the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration and the October 4th Summit Declaration


○ Organize a North-South joint event for implementation of the October 4th Summit Declaration


○ Institute a commemoration day celebrating the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration


2) Exert efforts for wider North-South women’s exchanges among the public, and narrow the gap in understanding unification between the women of North and South Koreas, and among South Korean women


○ Hold regular inter-Korean women’s exchanges, and expand to include exchanges among various women’s sectors ○ Promote women’s peace discussions that encompass conservatives and progressives


3) Demand wider participation of women and the adoption of gender perspectives in unification, national security, and foreign policies


○ Expand women’s participation in unification and foreign policy decision-making to realize UN Security Council Resolution 1325


○ Conduct gender impact assessment on unification and foreign affairs policies


4) Establish an international women’s solidarity for building a peace regime in Northeast Asia and on the Korean Peninsula


○ Publicize the importance of attaining a Korean Peninsula peace regime


○ Establish a Northeast Asian women’s network for achieving peace


5) Expand continuous education on unification/peace and culture of peace


○ Develop and provide various teaching materials on unification and peace, which are accessible to women


○ Popularize songs and puppet shows on peace ○ Improve living culture to make peace a matter of everyday life


6) Expand the role of women and NGOs working for peace, and build capacity


○ Enhance women’s role as peacemakers and their capacity for peace ○ Developwomen experts on peace/unification issues




The inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak government has brought about another crisis to the atmosphere of peace and unification that had been fostered through the efforts of NGOs. However, internationally, the North Korean nuclear problem is gradually progressing, and peace on theKorean Peninsula is expected to move forward as well within this larger framework. Nevertheless, the current administration will have to improve inter-Korean relations and play a leading role in the Six-Party Talks in order to draw out active participation from the other parties in the framework.


Peace on the Korean Peninsula is a necessary condition for peace in Northeast Asia. As peacemakers, we women must actively participate in establishing an inter-Korean peace regime, and furthermore, engage in efforts for peace in Northeast Asia.


Kim Seong-bae, "Prospects for Resolving the NK Nuclear Issue, and Inter-Korean Relations",

policy discussion of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, 2008

Kim Geun-shik, "Prospects for Resolving the NK Nuclear Issue, and Inter-Korean Relations",

policy discussion of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, 2008


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