FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 24, 2018 - 12:00am

The momentum toward peace in the Korean peninsula could hit a snag if hawks in the Trump administration have their way. A spokesman for Trump said the US would want Pyongyang to dismantle its missiles and launch sites before there could be any motion in lifting the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Hermit Kingdom.

Over the past few weeks, the situation in the peninsula has been changing at a dizzying pace. After all the hostile posturing last year, the two Koreas have been engaged in what may be called a blitz for peace.

This week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will sit down with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the Demilitarized Zone. The most hopeful are now speaking, albeit in very cautious tone, about the possibility of Korean reunification.

Although Donald Trump has, as usual claimed credit for the sudden turn of events in the troubled peninsula, the hard diplomatic work will have to be credited to Moon and Kim.

The ice was broken during the winter Olympics hosted by South Korea. Upon the invitation of the South Korean President, the mercurial Kim decided to send athletes to the Games. North Korean women hockey players combined with the South Korean team. Pyongyang even sent a rather robotic cheering squad to the event.

While the hockey team had a forgettable performance in the actual Games, the sight of athletes playing under a unification flag sent a resounding message. Weeks later, Moon returned the gesture by sending a troupe of K-pop performers to Pyongyang. Kim attended the concert and, even if the music might have seemed strange, apparently enjoyed the performance.

That set the tone for the historic meeting between the two Korean leaders that will be held this week.

To further consolidate the amicable mood for that meeting, Kim announced last week that North Korea will stop all nuclear testing and missile firings. He says his country has achieved the goals it set with previous tests. In addition, the North will shut down a key missile base from which long-range missiles were launched last year.

Seoul responded to this gesture by turning off the huge speakers at the border. These speakers were used to bombard the North with propaganda.

Neither Pyongyang nor Seoul set conditions as developments happened in quick succession. Setting conditions could kill the momentum toward peace. This is, after all, an exploratory and almost spontaneous process. This is a very Asian way of doing things.

Last month, Kim expressed his readiness to meet with Trump before two senior South Korean officials visiting Pyongyang. The two senior officials immediately reported the invitation to President Moon. Defying all protocol, Moon immediately dispatched his two officials to relay the invitation to Trump.

The invitation was a shock to Trump administration officials, who did not have a clearly formulated Korea strategy. The US President immediately accepted the invitation to meet without even consulting his defense and foreign policy officials.

The two South Korean officials, in a most awkward way, were asked to announce Trump’s decision outside the White House as they left.  No American official was present.

Last Easter Sunday, Trump himself revealed he had sent his CIA director to Pyongyang to discuss details of the forthcoming summit between the US President and the North Korean leader. Given Trump’s volatility, no one is really sure this meeting will actually push through or be productive.

Last week, Trump announced his intention to walk out of the meeting with Kim if it did not look promising. That was followed by the demand for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear armaments.

The initiatives coming from Kim and Moon looked promising even if seemingly haphazard. Now, with Trump in the equation, things look more haphazard than promising.

We can only hope that something irreversible is gained in this political springtime at the peninsula.


Where the currents converge somewhere in the North Pacific Ocean, a clump of plastic waste the size of France has accumulated. It can only continue to grow. No nation has come forward to take responsibility for cleaning up the trash.

As we celebrated Earth Day this last weekend, plastic has become the central focus of environmentalists. Because of its molecular structure, plastic cannot be disintegrated by bacteria unlike other organic wastes.

Recently, it was announced that a new enzyme has been developed that could break down plastic. This might be a case of a solution coming too little and too late.

Plastic waste polluting the oceans is taking its toll. A dead whale discovered a couple of weeks ago had about 64 pounds of plastic waste in its innards. Bit and pieces of plastic are threatening the fish we consume and the coral reefs that harbor them.

In some jurisdictions, single-use plastic products such as straws, wraps and water bottles are banned. Yet we are a long way to banishing this synthetic product that has become a real threat to our environment.

Unless all the navies of the Pacific Rim countries are sent to do cleanup work, that large clump of plastic waste floating in the North Pacific will remain for all eternity. It will be a monument to the disdain with which humanity treated the earth.

Meanwhile, we can start cleaning up in the small spaces we can control. The waterways of Metro Manila are all choked with plastic waste. Manila Bay washes up tons of discarded plastic material each day.

No less than a drastic change in lifestyle will save the earth from its humans.

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