Pyeongchang Peace: Can civil society pushing for peace? — Khoo Ying Hooi

FEBRUARY 24 — South and North Korea have confronted each other since the Korean War. The tension is an indication that, while the Cold War is often thought to have ended after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the on-going tension in the Korean Peninsula is a reflection of the continuing Cold War structure. The heavily militarised systems in this region offers the argument why a totalitarian regime in the North could sustain until the present, and this is not at all merely an inter-tension between the two Koreas, but as widely known, the role of United States and other major powers in the world are part of this on-going tension.

Much progress towards the peace efforts between the two Koreas have been fostered since 2018. Now, all eyes are aimed at the upcoming meeting that is scheduled to take place next week between Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump in Vietnam on February 27-28. What will transpire in this meeting? This is one key question that is being discussed in the recently concluded Pyeongchang Global Peace Forum (PGPF) in Pyeongchang.

The PGPF is held, as a follow-up to thesports diplomacy as ushered in from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympic. The spirit of peace and sports has become a great inspiration where it has managed to break through the historical and political barriers and to move forward to peacebuilding efforts.

For three days from February 9-11, more than 500 people from 50 countries and 200 organisations gathered together in the same platform to review the crises and prospects of peace, building up from the spirit of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that emphasise on human rights and sustainable peace. 

Three documents were adopted at the end of the forum: Pyeongchang Declaration for Peace 2019 with the title, Sustainable Future For All: Ending War, Guaranteeing Peace; a Resolution for Sustaining Peace Process in Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and the Pyeongchang Agenda for Peace (PCAP) 2030.

In these three days, civil society coming from different region discussed intensively on issues from the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, cooperation between North and South Korea, nuclear disarmament, the SDGs, de-militarisation, restorative justice, sports and peace, to the right to peace.

These peace efforts from the civil society around the world deserve closer attention.How much impact can civil society has and what roles can it take in the peace process? The PGPF is held as an effort to be precisely demonstrating the crucial role of the civil society not only from the South Korean but more of how these local civil societies can bridge the horizontal and vertical boundaries of the Korean conflict with the support from the international civil society.

While discourse on de-nuclearisation and reunification take place at the high-level talks, it is important to also recognize the essential role of the Korean people and their participation in civil engagement in order to foster trust and a common vision of what a unified Korea could look like.

The role of civil society should be recognized where, despite the closure and restriction of most official channels of communication, civil society have been working partially to close the gap by convening Track II dialogue processes and to enhance the notion of “people to people” interaction across the two Koreas. 

The Pyeongchang Declaration has specifically highlighted the need to live on what the international community have achieved in the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century 20 years ago by using the framework of SDGs, with Goal 16 as the priority.

As emphasized in the declaration, global security governance is decisively influenced by the five veto member states of the UN Security Council. This brings into the responsibility of the Security Council to be committed in reducing conflict and to end the scourge of wars that have brought suffering and deaths.

One of the key topics that were being discussed is the military spending for conflicts and an end to military expansion. The concept of peace does not mean the absence of conflicts; rather it brings up a broader definition to also include development and human rights. In order to do so, it is crucial for all governments to increase their commitments to support and enforce international disarmament laws and institutions to prevent the development of new nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, and the weaponisation of space as stipulated in the spirit of Article 26 of the UN Charter.

Conventionally, the role of civil society is often undermined in the peacebuilding efforts. With the evolution of the world politics from Track I to Track II, the influence of the civil society should not be dismissed. Inclusivity of the civil society actors is crucial to recognize and ensure those efforts that take place at multiple levels. The “multi-track diplomacy” should be upheld in order to address the conflict more comprehensively and for sustainable peacebuilding. In other words, despite the progress and setbacks of the on-going peace process in the Korean Peninsula, the important thing is to continue to remain engaged. This is precisely the spirit of the PGPF that is envisaged to continue.

* Dr. Khoo Ying Hooi is Deputy Head and Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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