Revered Korean Dharma master and social activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the 20th New Korea Forum, hosted by the Korea Religion Association in Seoul on July 13. In an insightful and insightful examination of the geopolitical climate prevailing in the region, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim delivered a lecture titled “Dealing with Rising Tensions on the Korean Peninsula: Pathways to Peace.”
The New Korea Forum is a monthly conference that invites prominent social figures and leaders to address various topics related to peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula, discuss national development, and advance initiatives aimed at establishing peace in the world.
“Tensions are rising on the Korean peninsula and the risk of war has reached an alarming level. We have to find a breakthrough,” said Ven. Pomnyun Sunim observed during a casual conversation before his opening speech. “Ideally, persuading the South Korean government to resolve this crisis would be the best course of action. If that is not possible, an alternative approach would be to persuade the United States to improve relations with North Korea as a means of resolving this crisis. If that doesn't work, we could explore the possibility of engaging in discussions with Japan.
In his address, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim addressed many concerns regarding national and international powers, in particular the growing polarization of the global political landscape, the threat of nuclear conflict and the urgent need for active steps towards accommodation, compromise and reconciliation in the interest of preserving peace. out of compassion for the millions whose lives are at stake. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim's opening speech for the occasion is reproduced here in its entirety:
The current escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula should not be seen solely in terms of inter-Korean relations. From a broader perspective, it can be understood as a manifestation of the power struggle between the United States and China. In the past, the United States and China enjoyed a cooperative relationship, which prevented the escalation of tensions between the two Koreas into a full-fledged war. Even though there were minor conflicts, the major powers involved kept them from getting worse. However, the current situation is reminiscent of the Korean War, as the United States and China are engaged in a contest for supremacy. Even though the two Koreas try to cooperate, the United States and China maintain conflicts. Moreover, if the inter-Korean conflict escalates, there is a high risk that local disputes will escalate into a devastating war. To make an analogy, in the past a match could be lit without causing a fire due to the absence of flammable material nearby. But now, with an abundance of flammable materials present, even a small spark could cause a major conflagration.
If South Korea becomes a subordinate element within the US-Japan cooperation system and North Korea becomes a subordinate element within the Sino-Russia cooperation system in a global conflict, war on the Korean Peninsula could break out regardless of our intentions. . Thus, I am deeply concerned about the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Specifically, the active involvement of the South Korean government in US-Japan military cooperation provokes both China and Russia. Moreover, the mention of the South Korean government to provide direct military assistance to the Ukrainian conflict also provokes Russia. If Russia were to transfer its military support to North Korea, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear technology, and China were to actively provide economic support to North Korea, tensions on the Korean peninsula would inevitably escalate. That would put us at a great disadvantage.
However, if we look at the situation from another angle, a crisis can also be seen as an opportunity. We can use the current unfavorable situation as a blessing in disguise.
The South Korean government's security strategy aims to limit North Korea's nuclear expansion using a military cooperation framework involving South Korea, the United States and Japan. Conversely, North Korea aims to prevent invasion by the US and South Korean governments by relying on its own nuclear capabilities. This approach of both sides seeking overwhelming military superiority over their adversaries further exacerbates the inter-Korean conflict. This security strategy does not effectively address North Korea's nuclear proliferation problem, which is currently ignored. North Korea is advancing in terms of nuclear development, including the production and deployment of nuclear weapons, without any checks and balances. Since China and Russia, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, do not actively participate in North Korea's denuclearization efforts, the current neglect of North Korea's nuclear proliferation poses a significant threat not only to the Korean Peninsula but also to world peace.
The most urgent action we can take is to stop the spread of nuclear weapons by North Korea. In other words, North Korea should freeze its nuclear development. This involves stopping the production and development of nuclear materials and their deployment. To achieve this, we must be willing to meet some of North Korea's demands. Over the past decades, North Korea has consistently sought assurances regarding its security. In other words, he wants the United States to drop its hostile policy toward North Korea, thereby normalizing bilateral relations.
I believe that freezing North Korea's nuclear program by normalizing US-North Korea relations is a starting point for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and establishing peace in Northeast Asia. It is of the utmost importance to find ways to persuade both the South Korean and US governments on this issue. Of course, North Korea must also be convinced. We must make them aware that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons could jeopardize the stability of their system. Nuclear weapons alone cannot guarantee a country's security. By improving relations with neighboring countries and improving the well-being of North Korean citizens, North Korea can provide lasting security. South Korea and the United States should also recognize that it is unrealistic to completely isolate and bring about the collapse of North Korea in the current international landscape. Therefore, it is necessary to improve relations between North Korea and the United States by providing humanitarian aid that meets the needs of North Koreans and simultaneously lifting economic sanctions. Only then can North Korea prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons.
I believe that we must continue in this direction and I hope that the positive influence of peace-loving individuals will have a significant impact. In particular, the economic situation in North Korea is extremely difficult. Some people claim that the collapse of the North Korean regime is imminent because of these difficulties. However, if food shortages were enough to cause the North Korean regime to collapse, it would have collapsed 20 years ago. This scenario seems highly unlikely. Instead, we should all reflect on the fact that we have turned a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow North Koreans, who share the same ethnic background.
Despite 70 years since the armistice in Korea, the issue of separated families remains unresolved. Even those born during this time are now in their 70s, and with members of separated families aged 80 or older dying every year, accelerating the reunification of separated families is crucial regardless of political considerations.
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Dharma teacher, author and social activist. He founded many organizations, initiatives and projects around the world. Among them are Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on the teachings of the Buddha and dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, and JTS Korea, an international humanitarian organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger. Fri. Pomnyun Sunim is also the patron of the International Network of Committed Buddhists (INEB).
In October 2020, the Niwano Foundation for Peace in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of his international humanitarian work, his intensive environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different religions and cultures, towards the goal of world peace.*
* Buddhist monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Receives 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)