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Activists demand end to ‘arms race’ in Japan, South Korea

Civic and religious groups say militarization threatens peace and reconciliation in East Asia

Japanese administration under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims militarization to tackle China and North Korea

Japanese administration under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims militarization to tackle China and North Korea. (Photo: AFP)

Published: August 16, 2023 10:40 AM GMT

Updated: August 16, 2023 11:37 AM GMT

A coalition of Japanese and South Korean civic and religious groups has called for an end to military expansion in both nations for peace and reconciliation in the region.

The Korea-Japan Reconciliation and Peace Platform issued a statement urging the governments in Japan and South Korea to return to the “path of peace,” Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation of Korea (CPBC) reported on Aug. 16.

"The world is currently facing a crisis in human history that makes it difficult to shake off the anxiety of nuclear war while losing sincere dialogue and diplomatic efforts for peace,” the group’s spokesperson said during a press conference in Seoul on Aug. 10.

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“To end the state of war that has lasted for 70 years, we must conclude a peace treaty and strive to make the Korean peninsula a non-nuclear weapons zone,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Korean War and uneasy peace in Korean Peninsula.

The group issued the statement ahead of the National Liberation Day on Aug. 15, which commemorates the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea that ended in 1945.

The group criticized the military expansion policies in South Korea and Japan and called on the citizens in both nations to form a solidarity of peace.

Formed in 2020, the coalition consists of members from Catholic and Protestant churches, besides Buddhism. The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace are among its active members.

Since its formation, the group has been campaigning for peace, denuclearization, and historical justice in East Asia.

Father Kang Joo-seok, secretary of the Korean bishops’ Special Episcopal Commission for the Reconciliation of the Korean People, called for “true reconciliation” to improve relations between the two countries.

“The reason why Korea-Japan relations do not improve is because there are issues that have not been properly revealed in justice, truth, and history,” Kang said.

“True peace is possible only through forgiveness and reconciliation, and justice and truth are the practical conditions necessary for reconciliation,” Kang further added.

Han Chung-mok, representative of the Solidarity for the Progressives of Korea alleged that North and South Korea were ignoring peace talks and engaging in disruptive dialogue.

“Since the current government took office, the two Koreas have been engaged in hostility and confrontation rather than advancing towards peace together. We will try to move forward,” Han said.

Following the end of Japan’s imperial rule after World War II, Korea was divided into two.

The brutal Korean War (1950-53) between the democratic south and the communist north left an estimated 4 million dead, and 10 million displaced. The war ended with an armistice agreement, not a treaty, which means both countries are technically still at war.

The conflict between the two Koreas escalated in recent years, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons group.

The largest US-South Korean joint military exercises involving nuclear-capable aircraft in recent years were met with the escalation in nuclear rhetoric from North Korea which accused Washington and Seoul of escalating tensions.

In 2022, North Korea carried out more than 40 ballistic missile tests, the group said.

The group also pointed out that North Korea had announced a new law making its nuclear-armed status “irreversible”, prohibiting talks on denuclearization, and allowing for pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, which further escalated the ongoing tensions in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has come under criticism from pacifist groups and rights campaigners for pursuing a rearmament policy reportedly to counter military expansionism by China and North Korea.

Kishida, like his predecessor Shinzo Abe, is also accused of attempting to amend Article 9 of the nation’s constitution which prohibits militarization and warfare.


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