PEACETALK: The Miracle In Korea

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 April) – A lot of people including die-hard cynics must still be reeling from Goosebumps over the scenes of the momentous summit of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom.

Indeed, as we were glued to our television screens last Friday watching the carefully choreographed meeting of these two heads of a divided nation that are still technically at war, we could not help but gush at the moment and root for both men and their peoples. Am sure there were a lot around the world that shed tears of happy disbelief and euphoric joy.

As the drama unfolded, there were some unexpected but welcome moments such as when the North Korean leader invited the South Korean President to also step into North Korean “territory” after he became the first North Korean leader to cross into South Korea. Then he again suavely organized an impromptu photo session of the combined cabinet and military officials of the two Koreas before he was ushered into the Peace Palace building for the formalities.

And as if to jolt us – or those who noticed– back to reality from the unraveling trance, the North Korean leader signed the guest book with a pen handed by his aide even if there was already one in place at the table. Perhaps he or his advisers were not totally trustful that his thumb or finger mark on the prepared pen will not be used for future odious purposes or even for an awesome auction sale at Sotheby’s that won’t anyway feed his allegedly hungry denizens.

Still, who would have indeed thought that this reality will come to pass when Kim Jong-Un has been disparaged around the world—specially in the West– as “little rocket man”, “madman” or “crazy” even by our own President who now salutes him as his “idol” who has impeccable “timing”. Who would have thought that suddenly the threat of nuclear missiles blasting Guam, Japan or the U.S. West Coast to smithereens and a rain of the same ballistics on Pyongyang from the U.S. and its allies just a few months ago would abruptly vanish?

And now the strongman and his South Korean counterpart are a cinch bagging a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for in one “masterstroke” they dampened the fears of a nuclear holocaust and ushered in an unprecedented era of hope and peace not only in their common peninsula but in the region and the entire planet.

And a day after the summit, Kim Jong-un declared in Pyongyang that North Korea would close its missile test site starting next month. Of course it’s not the first time that the perhaps erstwhile pariah state did this to appease or humor the international community, but the dramatic announcement further calmed restless nerves.

Never mind that there are Americans who claim that it was President Trump who was really responsible for this event coming to pass as he was the one who “pressured” North Korea to succumb with the stinging sanctions against the Pyongyang regime he championed. Of course sanctions have already been in place imposed by the United Nations since 2006. Ten years before Trump was elected President of the United States. And North Korea had soldiered on (no pun intended) despite these debilitating injunctions.

These same Americans have even chanted in one mid-term election campaign rally this week that Trump is bestowed the Nobel. (I can hear a wave of snickers now…)

Already, even before the ink on the agreements reached at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas have dried, some pundits have cautioned wariness reminding everyone that North Korea has twice reneged on similar pacts before. This is of course understandable as decades of distrust and contrasting systems and approaches to achieve some sort of a more lasting détente has not worked. Years of saber rattling, diplomacy, sanctions, bluster, rhetoric, actual missile tests, a period of denouement, or a combination of any of these failed to achieve this level of electrifying breakthrough.

The world already got a glimpse of what could be possible at the last Winter Olympics at the serendipitously named town of Pyeongchang when both South and North Korea marched under a unification flag at the opening ceremony and fielded a combined team at the women’s ice hockey event.

The real credit must go to the quiet work of South Korean President Moon who came to power last year on a platform of reignited reunification efforts after his people toppled his predecessor President Park Geun-hye on charges of corruption and impropriety.  Park is the daughter of the late South Korean dictator Gen. Park Hung Yee who ruled the South with an iron fist for 18 years from 1963 – 1979 until his own close friend who was the Director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency assassinated him. Succeeding governments including one installed by a coup de etat aping Park’s strongman rule took over until a sustained people power movement that was inspired in part by our own EDSA revolution finally enabled the return to democracy of the country in 1987.

Moon was quietly pushing the events to unravel as he stuck to his strategy of putting Seoul in the driver’s seat in the Korean peninsula. As an Atlantic article last March effusively said of him: Trump and Kim may be the ones making headlines, but it was Moon who drove the entire process. In just eight months, he kept China on the sidelines, rebuffed North Korea’s attempt to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, pushed North Korea to put denuclearization on the table, and nudged the U.S. to step away from a preventive strike and talk to Pyongyang—to the point that Donald Trump, if he follows through on his pledge, would become the first U.S. president to hold a summit meeting with North Korea. And to the extent that giving Trump all the credit helps Moon steer him, the South Korean leader will be perfectly content to leave the spotlight to others.”

Certainly another breakthrough is in the offing in a month or two if the planned face-to-face meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un that Moon is adroitly steering pushes through. This will truly be momentous as never has been the leader of the avowed sentinel of democracy that has arrogated upon itself the role of world policeman and North Korea ever happened. It is ironic that if this indeed transpires, it will be between two of the world’s most derided leaders. And to think that meeting will potentially actually put closure to the last vestige of the Cold War. What happened was short of a miracle.

But here’s the rub.

While the world is celebrating this exquisite moment, I wonder what about those areas were actual rockets continue to pour and actually explode? In Gaza and Syria? Where Israeli rubber or live bullets waylay unarmed Palestinian protesters and children and women are either downed by chemical gas or blown to pieces by American or Russian smart bombs? What about the “virtual ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people and the displacement and killing of thousands of Kachins in Burma? What about the scattered communities fleeing militias in the fastness of the Congo, the bloodied demonstrators in the streets of Managua, the dispersed tribes in the jungles of Colombia—despite a peace deal that earned its President a Nobel in 2016?

And what about the devastated city of Marawi? Who will be our Moon Jae-in or Kim Jong-un that will bring peace to this once proud city of the people of the lake? Who will balm the seething anger of the residents of the bombed out houses of Ground Zero and assure and invite them to participate in crafting the plans for the rehabilitation and the “bangon” (rise) of their own city?  Who will convince Congress and the Filipino people that passing an inclusive Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may finally correct the historical injustices heaped against the Moro and help calm their restive souls and stop on its tracts the muse of violent extremism?

Who will end the terror that our Lumad sisters and brothers confront everyday when soldiers swoop down on their lands and battle it out with communist guerillas trapping them in the crossfire?

Perhaps President Duterte can take a leaf from his new “idol” and push deeper the peace button by finally resuming official negotiations with the communists. In fairness, recent developments augur some prospects on this front. But we hope that this optimism is sustained until both parties genuinely seek and achieve a negotiated political settlement. Then they can silence their guns for all time.

Thank you Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un for making this place a safer world today. May your heroic example be emulated in our own divided nation.

(Gus Miclat is the Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, a Davao-based regional advocacy, peacebuilding and solidarity NGO.)