Hopes pinned on denuclearisation

Monday April 30, 2018 Written by Published in Regional

PACIFIC – As the world watches to see the outcome of a proposed denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States, islands in the middle of the Pacific are hoping it will mean a stop to the constant threat of a nuclear attack.

 

Guam, only 3400 kilometres from Pyongyang, was thrust onto the geopolitical stage in August when Kim Jong-un said he was “carefully examining” a plan to strike the US Pacific territory.

The US armed forces own about 30 per cent of Guam’s entire land mass, and there are about 7000 American troops stationed there.

“I frequently compare this to having a ten-foot giant living in your house,” University of Guam president Robert Underwood said.

“Even if the giant was well-intentioned, it would be just disruptive and break things, and disrupt your life, simply by the scale of their presence, and that’s what we’ve been living with for many, many decades.”

The North Korean regime had threatened to strike the US territory in the past, and the territory has been in suspected range of their weapons for years.

Underwood, who is a former member of Congress, said the threat of attack in August, then a second in October, saw a drop in tourism while the tit-for-tat threats went on between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

“We certainly hope the talks work out well – but of course the erratic nature of President Trump’s negotiating position is not a real source of comfort,” Underwood said.

“Last year when he threatened fire and fury on North Koreans, it was feeling like we were being held hostage, and our hostage negotiator said ‘go ahead and shoot’.”

Just a two-hour flight south of Guam is Palau, an archipelago of some 500 islands with a population of just over 21,000 people.

The country is independent but has a compact of free association with the US, which means the American military can use the islands for defence purposes, in exchange for coming to its aid during conflicts.

As North Korea ramped up its threats late last year, the government announced a plan to build a radar system – the stated purpose was to track activity in the National Marine Sanctuary, but it is believed they will also have defensive uses.

“Because of our compact of free association, if Guam falls, we’re the next one in line for US defence,” former Palau vice-president and minister of state Sandra Pierantozzi said.

“We’re a small country, but we also like to live in peace and not have to be in the crossfire between the major powers.

“So we hope and pray that some good results will follow.”

No time or date has been set for the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, but Republican member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, Gene Ward, has written to Trump to say it should be held in Hawai‘i.

Hawaiian authorities are already getting ready for this scenario.

“The importance of these talks cannot be underestimated. The importance of Hawai‘i being a place to do the talks can’t be underestimated,” said Ward.

“Let’s make Hawai‘i the Geneva of the Pacific,” he said.

Hawai‘i, like Guam, is no stranger to the fear of a missile strike, and residents spent almost 40 minutes in chaos when a missile alert was accidentally sent out in January.

Ward said the state has a lot riding on a peaceful outcome to the inter-Korean talks.

“We are literally 20 minutes away, and because there has to be calibration on whether it’s going to go to Hawaii, basically we have 13 minutes to prepare for this whole thing,” he said.

“So everybody is really concerned about being on alert, and why we’re very concerned is that 13 minutes is not even enough time to get your kid out of school.”

Ward credited Trump’s tough stance on North Korea for moving the peace process along, saying there was a “real opportunity” progress could be made.

            - ABC

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