By Naomi Yakawich
The Global Peace Convention 2019 opened in Seoul, South Korea on February 26 with a Global Youth Forum and Women's Leadership Forum, highlighting the role of youth and women leaders in becoming active contributors to the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Popular opinion around reunification has been changing. A recent Korean Gallup poll from October 2018 indicated that 84% of the South Korean people supported unification. The following month, the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee conducted a poll showing that more than half of South Korean university students have a positive view toward Korean unification. However, there is still no consensus on what a unified Korea will look like and how to achieve that goal.
Youth and women leaders explored this need for a common vision, emphasizing both demographic’s role in becoming active contributors to the Korean Dream, collectively building towards a new, unified nation that can be a model for the world. A supporting vision mentioned throughout the convention was the Korean ideal of Hongik Ingan, meaning “to bring benefit to humanity.”
The Global Youth Forum featured youth-led initiatives, shared inspirational leadership models and programs and created platforms to share, expand and develop ongoing youth-led initiatives to be implemented in Korea, the Northeast Asia region and beyond.
“I believe that the issue of Korean unification will be the geo-political event that defines our generation,” said keynote speaker Shinwon Moon, “We must use our God-given ingenuity, passion, and idealism to keep our leaders accountable and to guide a unified Korea towards the Hongik Ingan ideal.”
Experts in Korean affairs and unification research presented reunification, particularly through youth-led initiatives, as an opportunity for innovation and expanding economic ventures through a shared economy. Dr. Emanuel Pastreich, President of The Asia Institute, stated, “The question is how do we create a dialogue that offers hope and potential and participation? The traditions of Korea, its cultural traditions and vision, offers tremendous opportunities for the world.”
Youth were passionate about how to engage as a rising generation in the future of a united Korea. Audience members included students from local universities that raised important questions about successful unification, claiming that many young people like themselves want Korean unification to occur. “Our cultures are so different now. So, when unification happens, what kind of culture will we have as a unified people?” one student asked. JC Wong, a Youth Ambassador for PATA explained, “It's a lot about perception. If you are thinking it's a bad thing, you will be worried. I think it's good that you all ask a lot of questions, to be more prepared and to understand the situation fully."
Speakers encouraged youth leaders to take ownership of creating the kind of culture they want to see in a united Korea, starting now. Mr. Jinsoo Kim, GPF Asia Pacific Regional President, described the importance of exchange programs that allow youth from Korea and other countries to participate in service projects together. “Exchange programs can have the power to break down walls,” said Mr. Kim. “Even though each person has a different background, they can share the same cultural experience in service. Then they can embrace each other.”
Opportunities to confront historical tensions face-to-face through people-to-people interactions allows young people to take the first step in building a new nation that can embrace and serve the world. “Through this volunteer process there should be dialogue,” said Mr. Shingetsugu Komine, an Assistant Professor at Rikkyo University, talking about his exchange program between Japanese and Korean students. “They could accept each other; they could overcome differences and create mutual trust to act for peace.”
The women’s forum brought together influential women leaders from around the world, highlighting the essential leadership role of women in strengthening families and communities in ways that ultimately contribute to sustainable global peace. Speakers included women who are actively working to promote peacebuilding and reunification of the divided Korean homeland.
Chairwoman of Global Peace Women, Dr. Junsook Moon spoke to the importance of internalizing the Hongik Ingan values to further Korean reunification efforts and world peace. "Korea's peaceful reunification is not just the work of the Korean government or a handful of organizations; It is a historical mission that Koreans throughout the world and all people should and can fulfill together.”
Speakers and participants alike were inspired to learn about the Korean Dream. Dr. Eva Latham, CEO of the Institute of Contemporary Scientific Studies, encouraged participants to go out and learn about the March 1 Movement and its relevance to the entire world saying, “You’re never too young to fight for a cause that is right.”