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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.

Pop quiz: what percentage of plastic currently gets recycled worldwide? Watch this video in Eni's Energy Shot series to find out and learn what needs to be done to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans. Plastic is a precious resource that should be valued, not wasted.

This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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