- The Guardian
- Issue #2066
Joon outside the Victoria Market, Melbourne
Joon Shik Shin’s business card gives his profession as “peace activist.” He has been a long-time worker for unions and the peace movement in both Korea and Australia. Joon recently finished a 40-day tour of Australia, where he has been speaking to meetings of the Korean community, and attending peace actions around the country, including an anti-AUKUS event in Melbourne, and the Hiroshima Never Again Rally. Our interviewer caught up with him in Melbourne and interviewed him in the gaps in Joon’s busy schedule.
FK (Interviewer): How did you become a peace activist?
Joon Shik Shin (JSS): In Korea I was a student activist. At the time – 1980s and early 1990s – we were acting against the Korean dictatorship and trying to make Korean society a democratic society. I was also a very strong union activist. Through the union movement I met many people. Sometimes I attended union rallies. I came to slowly understand the union movement and the peace movement. I came to understand what they did, so I moved on to the peace movement.
FK: What are your goals as a peace activist at the moment?
JSS: Generally speaking, world peace. Specifically, ending the Korean War. The Korean war stopped in 1953, but it’s still not finalised, so we are pushing to end the Korean War finally. Ultimately we want the US, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and China to sign up to a peace agreement to keep peace in the Korean Peninsula.
FK: What is the current situation with relations between South Korea and the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea)?
It’s very difficult now. The current government in South Korea wants to just win by getting more and more expensive weaponry from the United States. That will just start an arms race.
FK: What posturing and role is the US taking in the ongoing tensions in Korea and region?
JSS: The US is making the situation much worse by increasing militarisation. Recently the nuclear submarine Annapolis visited South Korea as a provocation. In response, the DPRK fired two missiles into the sea near the border between the two Koreas.
FK: What is happening with the many US bases in Korea and are the South Korea people resisting their presence?
JSS: One of the largest US army bases in the world is in Korea. Pyeongtaek (Camp Humphrey) is the largest US base outside the USA. [Editor’s note: about 42 thousand people]
A lot of Korean people don’t understand that it’s a new Cold War, more dangerous than the old Cold War. The activists fully understand. We’re mounting regular protests and trying to encircle the base.
FK: What’s the situation concerning relations between the DPRK and South Korea?
JSS: Very bad. The previous government tried to communicate – you know, an exchange program. This government wants to be a winner through military power, but we don’t agree. North Korean people … are people! We have different systems, but we are all Korean, we have to learn to get along.
FK: What are the chances for peace in Korea?
Because of Korea’s history, we are very aware of the importance of peace. The Korean war is technically not finished, and young men do compulsory military service. Peace is possible, but it’s very difficult just now. Peace is very important because Koreans have a lot of experience suffering through war and colonialism.
The government says that strong military power can make peace, but we don’t agree. They want to militarise South Korea. I think the government believes it can win an arms race. Through that, they want to make peace, but it’s nonsense.
North Korea gets nuclear weapons and the South Korean government just buys more and more expensive weapons from the US. We are very worried that the Korean peninsula is becoming the most dangerous battleground in the new Cold War.
The US and the government want to “upgrade” the military treaty we made with the US in 1953. That treaty just covers conventional weapons, but they want the treaty to contain the possibility of nuclear weapons.
FK: What is happening with the union movement and the ongoing intimidation of the South Korean government?
JSS: Most of the union leadership understands what we need to do. Korea has a different history to Australia. Union leaders, especially under the KCTU (Korean Council of Trade Unions) have to know about that bad, bitter history to organise people. They’re very good at organising – keeping in touch with their members. Korean unions are very tough and very peace conscious.
The right-wing government in South Korea now has been harassing union leaders with false accusations of bullying and embezzlement. One construction union leader committed suicide because of the pressure he was under. He was very innocent and very pure, he was just working hard for union members. The government just makes propaganda about the unions.
I’m not sure of the exact figure, but I think there are over 30 people in detention centres, falsely accused of embezzlement and harassment of members.
KCTU arranged a general strike and many union members attended.
FK: What are the main disputes at the moment?
JSS: Construction unions are the biggest and strongest unions, so the government is putting pressure on them. Those unions learned a lot from Australian unions, like “no ticket no start.” Korean unions engaged me to reach unions here and lecture them on what I learned. Capitalist governments are scared of big effective unions, so they put pressure on them. KCTU and Korean unions never give up.
FK: Do you have much support from other countries?
JSS: Yes, we have support from America, from Germany, from many other countries.
FK: What are your goals as a peace activist?
JSS: I want the South Korean government to communicate with the leadership of the DPRK, and use communication – you know, exchange programs, meetings – to relax the tension – instead of competition. We don’t want an arms race. We want a peace process.
FK: How do Koreans feel about China?
JSS: Korean people see China as a very good trading partner, and many Chinese tourists come to Korea. The political systems are very different, but we need trading partners. So Korean people want the two countries to become very good peaceful trading partners.
FK: What solidarity are the people of South Korea wanting from Australian activists to support them in the Peace and worker campaigns
JSS: For peace, we are working on a huge petition to go to the United Nations and the countries that are officially belligerents in the Korean War. We want that war to be officially over. We want peace on the Peninsula.
It’s a very bad situation for the new Cold War that Australia makes this bloody AUKUS agreement.
Also we Korean peace activists want you to keep fighting against AUKUS!