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The Other Side of Korea

The Other Side of Korea

Your Friday author likes to avoid cynicism where possible, but the twists and turns in the North Korean “denuclearization” saga make for a formidable challenge.


For example, Kim Jong-un has made remarkable progress in recent months on improving relations with China and South Korea, North Korea’s most important sources of food, fuel, cash, and other forms of help. He has done this by smiling broadly and talking about peace with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump. Yet, we’re no closer to knowing how Kim defines “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and how long he’ll play this game before making new demands that infuriate Trump.

And yet…

This week, dozens of families from North and South Korea, separated by war, were reunited for the first time in more than 65 years. One hundred people from each side were chosen by lottery to attend, though some dropped out when informed the relatives they hoped to see were no longer alive. In the end, 89 South Koreans and 83 North Koreans took part.

A woman, 86, and a man, 75, met their 89 year-old sister for the first time in decades. Sisters, 72 and 71, wore traditional dress to see their 99 year-old mother. A woman, 92, saw her now-elderly son for the first time since he was four.

South Koreans, many of whom brought medicine, clothing, and food for their relatives, were allowed to remain in the North for three days, but only spent a total of 11 hours with family. Visits were supervised. There have been 20 such reunions involving different families during brief moments of improved relations over the past 18 years.

This is not denuclearization. It’s not a peace treaty. Very few people are able to participate. But this is the last time these people will see their sisters, brothers, parents, and children.

The bottom line: Cynicism aside, these reunions are a good reason to try to improve relations among governments.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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