12 June 2013
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
We, the participants of an international consultation organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia held in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong SAR, from 3 to 6 June 2013. We convened under the Lordship of Jesus, who leads us to justice and peace, to understand and analyze various Asian realities, in particular human security challenges and emerging geopolitical trends that affect peace with justice and human rights and human dignity.
For three days, we celebrated the rich traditions and heritage of this vast Asian continent even as we also lamented the current realities that diminish the dignity of Asian peoples and violate their human rights. Nevertheless, we also share our joy with all peoples of Asia, sharing in their fervent desire for peace, security and justice nurtured in love and undergirded by our commitment to affirm human dignity, protect human rights and build sustainable communities.
Asia is a vast region – expansive in land mass; diverse in population, varied in nationalities, ethnicities, and indigenous peoples; plural in its religions; varied in its political maturity; rich in economic resources; and vibrant with the multiplicity of cultural expressions. Asia deserves, even requires, a plural rather than a singular description.
Asia is rich in natural resources. It has vast fertile and arable lands. Its soil is rich in all of the mineral resources necessary for industrialization and economic development of the region. Its flora and fauna are diverse; its extensive water systems are rich in freshwater and marine life.
Asians are hospitable peoples. We are nurtured by our ancient civilizations, our profound religiosity, and deep spirituality. Asia is home to many religions that have stood the test of time and the challenges posed by secularism, including challenges external and internal to the region. Asia is the birthplace and cradle of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – as it is also for Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism and several indigenous religions and spiritualties.
Asian ecumenism has been an incubator of active Christian witness in the public square. Numerous interreligious and interfaith endeavors towards dialogue and cooperation, much of which have been initiated by Christians, and which have sown seeds of social trust and reconciliation, are heartening. Our gathering in Hong Kong hopes to contribute to a long tradition of ecumenical thought and action dealing with sustainable peace with justice, healing and reconciliation, indeed of faithful discipleship and stewardship in the oikoumene.
Asia hosts a robust civil society. Its numerous peoples movements, non-governmental organizations and critical social movements are leveraging citizen and grassroots action in pursuing peace, seeking justice, protecting human rights, building sustainable communities, healing enmities, and reconciling divided peoples and nations.
We celebrate Asia even as we also lament historic injustices and their contemporary expressions exacerbated by globalization characterized by the unbridled pursuit of capital, the hegemonic realignment of nation-states by the superpowers that remind us of empires of old, and the increased use of violence to protect the unhampered access to the region’s wealth and resources. Globalization has engendered development aggression, including extractive mining, to the detriment of indigenous peoples and ecological systems, like in Indonesia and the Philippines. Asian countries are major migrant-sending countries but adequate protection of migrant rights and their families are lamentably lacking. Migrant workers have become easy pawns of the global labor market within migrant-receiving countries in Asia and other parts of the world.
Human security in Asia today is threatened and hampered due to various factors. Millions of Asian peoples are denied of peace with justice. Sadly, these are hallmarks of Asian society today: increasing poverty, inadequate health care, economic exploitation, exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation; drug trafficking; armed conflicts and violence; militarization, arms build-up, nuclearization, and small arms and light weapons proliferation; domination and intervention of major powers from outside and within the region; ethnic and religious conflicts, communal violence, and political unrest; violation and denial of human rights in various forms, like torture, custodial death, human trafficking, extrajudicial killings, and violations on a variety of populations, like the rights of migrant workers, of stateless peoples; of workers and farmers; and the suppression of people’s legitimate right to self-determination; lack of rule of law and democratic governance, and more.
The intractable wars and lingering conflicts in Asia are either homegrown or fomented and prosecuted by the outside big military and economic powers. These wars and conflicts are pushing the region to conflagration and impoverization. Militarization and escalating arms build-up have become a wider Asian phenomenon despite the negative impact of the global financial crisis. The national coffers of a growing number of Asian countries are too tilted to defense spending rather than to securing social safety nets. A variety of factors explains the new wave of increased military budgets in Asian countries: China’s rising influence within the region, the “return to Asia” strategy of the United States, with the so-called Asia pivot, growing territorial and border disputes and related inter-state tensions, and more. The region apparently is sliding into an arms race.
Peace and security in North East Asia has been a major concern during the past several decades. This certainly is true for the Korean Peninsula where 60 years since an armistice agreement was signed has not eased the tension in the region. The Korean War, which started in June 1950 and ended in July 1953, cemented the Cold War regime in the region and remains so today. Throughout the war, 5.1 million Korean people have died or wounded, and some 10 million people have been separated from their family members. Foreign powers – China, the United States, and Russia – took the lead in this war. The U.S. and former USSR had divided the peninsula while Japan laid the foundation for colonial conquest, imperialistic subjugation, and gross human rights violations, including massacres. As superpowers contend for supremacy over the peninsula, and as two different regimes, North Korea and South Korea, ceaselessly confront each other, true peace is ever more elusive. As long as the armistice system prevails, there is no true end of the Cold War and world peace that is just, durable and sustainable, is far from achievement. Steps to be taken to realize peace include a stop to economic, financial and commercial sanctions against North Korea and turning the armistice agreement to a peace treaty, effectively ending today’s de facto war.
In Asia, the democratic space is disturbingly shrinking and the rule of law and good governance grossly deficient. In the name of national security, legitimate dissent and protest is suppressed, including those raised by minorities, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, even opposition political parties, thus shrinking political diversity. The deligitimization of established democratic institutions, including independent judiciaries, and the discrediting, imprisonment and killing of democratic elements and forces, including civil society, NGO leaders and church workers, defies a region with many countries that have already subscribed to many multilateral human rights and good governance mechanisms. Gross violation of human rights, especially freedom of religion or belief, has led to ethno-religious cleansing and heightened religious intolerance. We must challenge the exploitation of the fight against terrorism as reason for suppression of freedoms and civil liberties.
In Asia, nation-states have aggressively asserted their roles while the participation of citizens and civil society organizations in the political process is increasingly being diminished. Recognizable deficit in democratic constitutional practices and regnant features of authoritarian politics in the region are frustrating democratization efforts. Statist paradigms in framing the political will have not helped the flourishing of participatory democracy. Increased military alliances and free trade agreements with the superpowers is putting Asian countries in the ambit of superpower military and economic strategies that do not necessarily promote the region’s interest but rather pulls us into their wars and agendas.
Peace talks and negotiations in many forms and stages are taking place in countries like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. among different peoples and belligerent groups. Many of these peace processes have taken long to consolidate and materialize. Previously consolidated arrangements are frustrated by exigent and narrow political interests often at the behest of and imposition of imperial powers rather than durable considerations, including community interests.
Even as Asia is rich in resources, economic disparities and poverty abound. In the face of wanton poverty, human security for the region means food security. The products of globalized production have enriched global coffers but not local communities. Defense budgets have taken a big slice of national budgets while appropriations for social safety nets, especially education and health, remain terribly low. The ratio of borrowing and servicing of burgeoning foreign debt to that of national spending is consigning domestic need to low priority. Add the unprecedented culture of graft and corruption and you have institutionalized robbery that denies the poor of legitimate public resources and finances.
Natural disasters and human made calamities have been features of many Asian countries, like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, China, Japan, and Philippines, with Philippines being in the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change. Inadequate mitigatory mechanisms make Asian countries even more vulnerable to these disasters. Development aggression, including extractive mining, has added to historic carbon emission by Asian countries, especially China, Japan, India and South Korea, putting climate change an urgent concern.
Religious fundamentalism and political extremism is on the rise in Asia. In clear instances, religious differences have been exploited to undergird conflicts and violent acts. The captivity by dominant nation-state paradigms and national security constructs of Christian imagination in social engagement has restricted Christians and their institutions to live out fully the demands of the Gospel for love and truth, and justice and reconciliation to flourish. Complicity of Christians in acts of injustice and violence, and their complacency and reluctance to stop them, thus further fragmenting the body of Christ, confuses our neighbors of other faiths about our sincerity to live out the fullness of shalom. Our lament must be turned to affirmation of every effort and endeavor by all religions and ideologies to work tirelessly and sacrificially to make a more just and compassionate world and a friendlier, brighter tomorrow.
The abuse of, trafficking in, and violence against women, children and youth must be stopped. The patriarchal structures of Asian societies are contributing to hierarchal practices that exacerbate such abuse and violence and must therefore be critiqued so that we can forge liberating relationships.
Christ is our peace; Christ leads us to overcome injustice (Ephesians 2). Our commitment to peace and justice are a humble response to the ethical demands of shalom and not by political exigency or economic expediency. The peace that we seek is the peace that the Psalmist exclaimed as having embraced with justice (Psalm 85). We must be warned that God is displeased with the absence of justice and would be appalled if there was no one in the public square to take the side of the poor, deprived, oppressed and marginalized (Isaiah 59).
Christians desiring for peace and justice must be servants of peace and agents of justice rather than peddlers of death and merchants of empire. We must triumph over militarism and militarization and move from militarized economies to peace economies. We must not be seduced by the military industrial complex to militarize our societies and pillage our rich natural resources compromising future generations. Christ has already triumphed over the imperial order and we are now a resurrected people in Christ, invited to be Christ’s friends, and friends of God’s beloved whose hurts and pains Jesus took upon himself – the widows and orphans, the despised and destitute, the oppressed and downtrodden.
The diversity of our ethnicities and nationalities is a celebration of God’s image in each of us, compelling us to protect human dignity and assert human rights in faithfulness to our God. Every human rights talk must redound to lifting up the poor, deprived, oppressed and marginalized in Asian societies. God’s justice is about the victims, the helpless and the hurt. Touching their lives — in solidarity and accompaniment — is the true measure of Christian discipleship. Ensuring the fullness of life together and collectively with them is the true mark of Christian stewardship of resources, talents and goodwill.
The peace of Christ embodies abundant and life in its fullness here and now (John 10:10). Abundance and prosperity must be predicated on lifestyles and political and corporate practices that sustain the integrity of God’s entire creation, which is cosmological in scope as oikoumene is truly about. Pillage and plunder has no place in the order of God’s creation. The health of the ecological order is at the heart of God’s creative design. This includes food and water security for all. In the abundance of God’s resources and grace, we are called in Asia to live simple lifestyles of contentment and sharing which announces our liberation from mammon.
True national security is peoples’ security that puts first and center the human rights and freedoms of human beings and their collectivities. It is security that makes us and our neighbors live together in peace and harmony. It is security that makes possible for everyone to “sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Might it be Lord Jesus that we merit your blessings to be your true partners in sowing hope, spreading love, building justice and seeking peace for life, so that the world might yet believe.
God of life, lead us to justice and peace.
Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong SAR
June 5, 2013