Peace Boat has been part of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) from before its official founding in 2005 – fifteen years ago. Launched in response to a call by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, GPPAC is a network of civil society organisations around the world united by a dedication to conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Peace Boat is the Regional Secretariat for GPPAC in Northeast Asia, building upon the expansive human networks nurtured through our voyages.
Recognising the urgent need for regional cooperation and conflict prevention efforts in the face of unresolved tensions and remnant Cold War structures in Northeast Asia, Peace Boat hosted the first Northeast Asian regional consultation meeting towards the launch of GPPAC in Tokyo on February 6-8, 2004, under the title "The Role of the Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflict." The participants, who came from Tokyo and other parts of Japan, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Busan, Ulaanbaatar, Vladivostok, and more, discussed key issues peace in Northeast Asia and alternative ideas and visions for civil society to open new channels for creative dialogue and sustainable peace.
As stated by Kawasaki Akira, Regional Secretariat member since the launch of GPPAC NEA, “what Northeast Asia needs is not more heated rhetoric, stronger weapons, and more robust missile defence systems but rather a firm commitment to open and constructive dialogue. This is where GPPAC plays a critical role."
A result of the first GPPAC NEA preparatory meeting in Tokyo and as contribution to the regional process, Peace Boat gave full scholarships to students from Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo and Beijing to participate in the International Student Programme on the 46th Global Voyage, travelling from Tokyo to New York between July 14 - September 13, 2004. When the ship docked in New York on September 10, the Northeast Asian students had the great opportunity to take part in a panel discussion in the UN ECOSOC chamber on “Northeast Asian Youth Voices in Global Efforts for Conflict Prevention”, organized as a contribution to the GPPAC process.
This also served as preparation for the global conference at the UN Headquarters in July 2005, which would officially launch the GPPAC network. Peace Boat’s 49th Global Voyage docked in New York to coincide with this historic event, which brought together over 2000 participants. The lively Taiko Japanese drumming performance by Peace Boat participants at the UN General Assembly Hall during the ceremony will be remembered by all!
Fifteen years later, GPPAC Northeast Asia continues to be a pioneering initiative to forge and strengthen cross-border ties between civil society organisations in the region. The priority project of the network today is the Ulaanbaatar Process, a civil society dialogue for peace on the Korean Peninsula and towards the development of a regional peace and security mechanism for Northeast Asia.
Meri Joyce, who has coordinated the network since 2006, reminds us that “especially as we see the tragic events on the Korean Peninsula this week, with tensions rising to an extremely concerning level, it is all the more important that civil society from the region maintains open channels of communication and takes joint action together to contribute to the peaceful, sustainable future for Northeast Asia.”