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Peace hopes up in Korea talks

WE welcome the many signs of peace in the Korean Peninsula, highlighted by the agreement between North and South Korea to hold official talks – the first ones in the last two years – in Panmunjom, the truce village on the border of the two Koreas.

The immediate reason cited for the talks is the coming Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9-25. The North wants to send a team to the Olympics and the South immediately welcomed the move, saying it will enhance the Games’ profile as a “peace Olympics.”

The South proposed that the talks also take up a matter close to the hearts of many South Koreans – reunions between family members that got separated when the war ended in 1953. Some 60,000 elderly South Koreans hope to see their relatives again – perhaps for one last time – and have asked their government to include this matter in the talks.

The United States, South Korea’s principal ally both in the 1950-53 Korean War and in the continuing war of threats, has also welcomed the talks. President Donald Trump said Washington may join the talks at a later stage.

The US and South Korea have both agreed to postpone their annual joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics. This decision may have been the key element in the North’s agreement to meet with the South.

Despite Trump’s threat of fire and fury and the United Nations series of economic sanctions, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has never backed down from his nuclear and missile tests, openly warning the US its missiles can now reach any city on the US mainland. He has repeatedly called on the US to stop its military exercises which, it fears, may be a prelude to an invasion.

The countries in his part of the world – notably Japan and China – surely welcome the growing peace initiative. The Philippines may lie some distance to the south but one of North Korea’s missiles once landed close to Batanes, indicating that in a nuclear missile war, we may well be on the front lines. We must not forget that in the Korean War of 1950-53, the Philippines was one of the UN member countries that sent troops to fight the North.

That war ended in an armistice, and not in a peace treaty. That means the state of war continues to this day between the two Koreas – and, by extension, between the North and the UN coalition of forces that included the Philippines.

It is now hoped that the coming peace talks, principally to discuss the Winter Olympics, will widen to include other issues that continue to separate the enemies of that old war. A formal peace treaty after all these years would bring the two Koreas closer together for their mutual benefit. It would also ease the fears that nearby countries like Japan, China, and the Philippines have over North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities.