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'If Koreans take ownership, unification will happen very quickly'

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Moon Hyun-jin, chairman of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the Plaza Hotel in Seoul on Aug. 14. Korea Times photo by Park Ji-won
Moon Hyun-jin, chairman of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the Plaza Hotel in Seoul on Aug. 14. Korea Times photo by Park Ji-won

By Park Ji-won

The Korean people should rely less on their governments and take the initiative themselves in resolving disputes on the Korean Peninsula and seeking unification, Moon Hyun-jin, chairman of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), an international nonprofit organization, said Aug. 14. His comment came amid growing concerns over conflict surrounding the peninsula.

"If the Korean people take ownership of unification and become part of it, things will happen very quickly," Moon said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

"When I talk about being Korean-led, it is not necessarily the two governments. It is actually the Korean people. If the Korean people move, the governments will follow. And then the international community will support this."

He stressed the importance of the grassroots power of ordinary people here, especially those who have had to overcome serious difficulties in the past decades.

"You could change it. Korea went from a military dictatorship to a democracy. It was the Korean people who moved [the country]. It wasn't the politicians or chaebol. In every major crisis moment in modern Korean history, all major transformative changes came about when the Korean people moved."

He added that what is really important is for young people to have curiosity, want to learn and become engaged.

The 50-year old civic organization leader, who has devoted himself to the unification movement, visited Seoul to give speeches during events that the GPF and Action for Korea United, an NGO sponsored by the GPF, co-hosted respectively ― the International Forum On One Korea under the theme "Historic Opportunity for Korean Unification: Vision, Leadership and Action" at the Plaza Hotel in Seoul; and a cultural event, Action for Korea Unified Festival which was held at KINTEX, Gyeonggi Province, Aug. 15, to mark the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement that took place in 1919 during Japan's colonial rule and the 74th anniversary of the country's liberation from Japan in 1945. The events also aimed to promote his vision and urge people to join in the programs he creates.

Moon, who was born in South Korea but moved to the United States when he was four, founded the GPF in 2009 as a civic-led unification movement with the aim of creating a model nation under his vision, "Korean Dream." He has been actively spreading this vision with his book, "Korean Dream: A Vision for a Unified Korea." The book states unification will benefit Koreans, Northeast Asia and the world. His vision is based on the philosophy of Hongik Ingan, or to "live for the betterment of all mankind," which is key to understand his efforts toward a unification of the Korean people.

In 2012, hHe also organized Action for Korea United (AKU), a civic alliance of over 800 NGOs in South Korea that is purportedly the largest single private entity working for unification. Its aim is to put his vision into action through several unification campaigns including a donation drive to build bread factories in North Korea.

Last year, he started to expand the AKU's activities into Korean diaspora communities as he felt it was important for them to work with local governments they were living under; and as a means to help South Koreans better understand about the world.

Through his efforts, in June the organization received special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is responsible for discussing global economic and social agendas, and coming up with policy recommendations for U.N. member states. It has also has been partnering with the U.N.'s Department of Public Information (DPI) since 2016, contributing to the development, implementation and monitoring of items agreed on by U.N. member nations.

Meanwhile, his unification movement was likely influenced by his family members, including his great uncle, who was a member of the Korean anti-colonial movement against the Japanese, and helped draft the Independence Declaration in 1919; and his father Moon Sun-myung, the late leader of the Unification Church, who met with then North Korean leader Kim Il-song in 1991 and opened up several North Korean businesses since then including tours to Mount Geumgang in 1994.

Tripartite alliance is important for unification

As a keen activist and peace builder, and the leader of an organization that which gives recommendations to the body advising U.N. states, Moon shared his insights on current diplomatic matters on the peninsula.

He highlighted the importance of maintaining the tripartite alliance between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, and urged the government to stop "tit-for-tat" moves in response to Japan's removal of South Korea from its trusted trading partners list, and to resolve troubled relations to build the groundwork for a peaceful unification.

"The only backup that South Korea has are Japan and the U.S. Why are they inflaming a stupid move that Abe made. If Moon Jae-in did not act the way he did when Japan did this, the U.S. could have got involved."

When asked about mediation by the U.S. in the dispute between its allies, he said there is not much that Washington can do, and it was the South Korean President's job to take the initiative, while stressing that evoking anti-Japanese sentiment will not be helpful in settling the matter.

Citing his critical views on the liberal President Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy, which promoted reconciliatory engagement with the North through various inter-Korean projects, and stressing that the Moon Jae-in administration has failed to appease North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over the last two years, he urged the administration to aim for a final goal, unification.

"You will not achieve anything just through dialogue. You have to have an endgame. You have to have a goal."

Regarding the challenges confronting South Koreans, he urged them to face reality but dream about unification.

"Many Koreans are dealing with many issues, but more so than ever, this is a time in which they need to care about what happens in the larger world."

"If one person has a dream, it is just a dream. But if all people have that dream, it can become a reality."

Park Ji-won

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