It was an historic moment and new day for world peace and for peace on the Korean peninsula when U.S. President Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un met in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Unfortunately, Canada’s reaction to the summit is lining us up to be the wrong side of history.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, in her response to the summit, re-affirmed Canada’s continued support for the out-dated strategy of global sanctions against North Korea. By using sanctions to maintain what then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called “maximum pressure” on North Korea to de-nuclearize, Canada is not moving the peace process forward.
Sanctions are portrayed as tools of diplomacy exerting maximum pressure, but this is simply not true. Sanctions are not tools of diplomacy; they are tools of war against the most vulnerable population: children, pregnant women, the elderly and the sick. North Korea is totally dependent upon oil for electricity, for heat, agriculture, and transport. With humanitarian aid blocked, doctors are unable to practice Western medicine. Hospitals cannot run without electricity, and blocking food aid means children will be the first victims of malnutrition, disease and starvation. UNICEF estimates that some 60,000 children will die this year as a result of the sanctions.
Continued diplomacy, not sanctions, is what will bring peace to Korea.
Maximum engagement, not maximum pressure, will ensure that peace prevails.
For decades Canada was known as the "honest broker" in international relations. We supported peace negotiations and nuclear disarmament at the United Nations. We led the campaign to ban landmines. And we are needed again as the rational, honest voice for peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. There are steps Canada can take right now to support the peace efforts in Korea.
Canada should support dialogue leading to a peace treaty. Minister Freeland names it: the situation on the Korean Peninsula is not just a regional issue, but a question of international peace and security. Canada, with its feminist foreign policy, can help to facilitate the involvement of women in all stages of the peace process. Women, from North and South Korea have been frontrunners in the call for peace, and need to present at the negotiating table.
Canada should ease restrictions for engagement with North Korea and enable people-to-people contact and interaction. Whether it’s North Korean farmers visiting the prairies through the Mennonite churches, or North Korean students studying at Canadian universities, or Canadians like Hailey Wickenheiser doing hockey clinics in North Korea, we know that people-to-people connections, based on respect, are essential for building good relationships.
And finally, Canada should work to mitigate the deleterious impacts sanctions have had in North Korea. Humanitarian assistance to North Korea is well below what is needed in order to increase food security and reduce malnutrition. For example, only $6.7million of UNICEF’s 2018 call for $16.5 million to support North Korean children has been raised.
The tremendous hope and optimism inspired by recent diplomatic breakthroughs has issued in a new era for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
But what drives the momentum towards peace is that some 80 million Koreans – North and South – are demanding it. And although there is, rightly, scepticism about President Trump and Chairman Kim’s personalities, purpose and politics, the foundation for peace lies in the deep yearning of the Korean people for reconciliation and normalization of relations.
The era of peace is coming to Korea. Canada has a choice. Maximum engagement or maximum pressure? We can either work to build peace through sustained engagement. Or continue global sanctions against North Korea and ultimately be judged to be on the wrong side of history.
— Patti Talbot is with The United Church of Canada and is responsible for partnerships with northeast Asia. Mary-Wynne Ashford is Past President of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Both were recently part of a delegation to South Korea of women peace and security experts. The delegation was led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and Women Cross DMZ founder Christine Ahn. A version of this article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.