A 3,100-mile sailing voyage for peace in the East China Sea reached its conclusion Sept. 15, part of what organizers hope is the beginning of an international peace movement across several countries.
South Korean sailors on a boat named Jonah’s Whale made stops in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and several islands circling the sea to spread the hope that peace and coexistence can come to a region that has been heavily militarized by global superpowers for many years.
The 100-day journey of 5,000 kilometers, which began June 1, specifically highlighted the presence of military forces on the islands of Jeju, south of the Korean Peninsula; Okinawa, a series of islands home to 32 U.S. military bases and nearly 30,000 active-duty personnel in Japan; and Taiwan, which is experiencing intensifying Chinese military pressure.
Project Gongpyeong-hae (Sea of Peace and Coexistence) is the initiative of Song Kang-Ho, a South Korean peace activist and theologian who networks with Anabaptists in Northeast Asia and has a vision for a World Peace University with locations on each of the three islands.
Song got to know Mennonites in the five years he worked on a doctorate in theology at Heidelberg University in Germany, spending time living with members of Bammental Mennonite Church, where he preached.
During his degree study, Song visited Rwanda and Bosnia and was shocked to see how Christians, who should teach peace, can mislead people into committing genocide. The experiences pushed him to give up a life of stability as a theologian and commit to healing, working for those who are victimized by war and the military.
He is founder of The Frontiers, an organization that sends peace workers to conflict zones, disaster areas and refugee camps.
Song was jailed in early 2020 for trespassing on a military base on Jeju Island, a South Korean territory that is considered an “Island of Peace.” He was there to pray for peace, disarmament and the integrity of creation and continues to work toward a goal of transforming a military installation on the island into a place to nurture peace.
Responding to questions on Aug. 20 from Jonah’s Whale, Song said Frontiers members were inspired by campaigning against the Jeju naval base to build solidarity with residents on Okinawan islands who oppose bases there.
“Residents of several islands welcomed us and pledged to cooperate in solidarity activities,” he said. “They promised to continue their brave activities against the military bases.”
The five-person sailing crew was joined by pairs of supporters for shorter legs of the trip. The crew made stops to highlight the peace campaign, visit with local groups and media, and ride out a July typhoon.
The crew arrived at Japan’s Tanegashima Island in early July to visit with people who live near the site of an American military base that is under construction and participate in demonstrations against military developments. The nearby island of Mageshima is now entirely an American military site where no outsider can enter.
“You guys showed up like a storm out of nowhere and encouraged us with passion and smiles,” read a local citizen named Miyake in a letter he shared July 3 at the group’s departure ceremony. “There are like-minded people across the sea, and they have come to meet us. We are very thankful.”
Song stressed that a unified stance against war and militarism is not just a matter for East Asian islands.
“I hope that islands’ peoples around the world experiencing similar difficulties would pay attention and cooperate,” he said. “Demilitarized islands of peace, such as Finland’s Åland, can also share their historical experience, and Hawaii’s residents can share their bad experience of the Pearl Harbor military base.”
Song is already planning a second peace voyage in September 2024, with the goal of assembling a crew that includes young people from Japan and Taiwan.
“Above all, I hope that Christian groups, such as Mennonites and Quakers who continue the historic peace tradition, could participate in these maritime activities,” he said. “There are many Mennonites living in Hualien, Taiwan. I hope that they can participate in this peace movement as well.”