Pyeongchang Looks to Recapture Spirit of 'Peace Olympics'

Published February 10th, 2020 - 04:01 GMT
Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other delegates kicked off the Pyeongchang Peace Forum 2020 in South Korea on Sunday. (Photo: Thomas Maresca/UPI)
Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other delegates kicked off the Pyeongchang Peace Forum 2020 in South Korea on Sunday. (Photo: Thomas Maresca/UPI)

Two years after the Winter Games kicked off here with an opening ceremony that featured athletes from North and South Korea marching together under a unified flag, a group of scholars, leaders and experts descended Sunday on this small skiing village to try to spark some momentum in a peace process that has faltered in recent months.

The Pyeongchang Peace Forum 2020 began on Sunday afternoon, a three-day event of panel discussions and presentations with over 1,000 participants from 25 countries.

One of the key goals of the forum is to deliver an action plan for officially ending the Korean War, said Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province, where Pyeongchang is located.

"We want to bring out a concrete action plan and to make it a global agenda," said Choi at a press conference on Sunday. "This year we want to put an end to the Korean War and to forge a peace agreement."

The Korean War ended in 1953 with a ceasefire agreement but not a permanent peace treaty, which has left the neighbors technically still at war for almost 70 years.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang became the starting point of a renewed period of detente on the Korean Peninsula and led to a series of inter-Korean summits as well as a pair of summits between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

However, since last year's Trump-Kim summit, held in February in Hanoi, Vietnam, nuclear negotiations and peace talks have been at a standstill.

Once-hopeful rhetoric has been increasingly replaced by a series of weapons tests and a more hostile tone from the North. Towards the end of 2019, Kim Jong Un announced the development of a "new strategic weapon" while Pyongyang warned of a potential "Christmas gift" for the United States.

"We are in a stalemate right now," said Choi, who was an instrumental figure in securing North Korean involvement in the Winter Games. "Although inter-Korean communications are not doing well, it is still a period of peace. We are not going back to the old ways of nuclear and ICBM tests."

Choi said officials are hoping to bridge the gap between North and South through sports and economic exchanges such as tourism to the North's Mount Kumgang resort area and fielding a unified Olympic team for the 2020 Summer Games, which will be held in Tokyo this July and August.

He added that organizers of the peace forum are hoping to see Gangwon's border area of Goseong County transformed into a United Nations-administered "peace city."

However, many of the economic projects that have been proposed by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, such as reopening the joint Kaesong Industrial Zone and reconnecting rail and road links, remain in limbo due to international sanctions on North Korea.

Former United States diplomat Christopher Hill told reporters ahead of the peace forum that he believes it's time to try to revisit nuclear negotiations with the participation of additional countries.

"There has been no progress since Hanoi and I think it is time to see what progress can be made," said Hill, a former ambassador and assistant secretary of state who led the U.S. delegation to the Six Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue in the mid-2000's.

"It's important to keep the door open to negotiations," he said. "And it's especially important to keep other parties in the region well-informed. I would like to see more countries involved directly in the negotiations. There needs to be much broader diplomatic architecture because this is not something the U.S. alone can solve."

In his keynote address to start the Pyeongchang Peace Forum, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon echoed the need to carry forward the diplomatic momentum from the Olympic Games.

"The [peace] process was kickstarted here in beautiful Pyeongchang during the Peace Olympics," said Ban. "Even though it may be fading a little bit at this moment, we should never be deterred by the setbacks we have now. Only through mutual dialogue and respect will we be able to overcome the current impasse between North and South Korea. We need all global citizens to come together."

The three-day conference, which is being held for the second time, features sessions on topics such as inter-Korean tourism, developing the DMZ as a peace zone and sports diplomacy. Last month, Gangwon Province was chosen to host the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics by the International Olympic Committee.


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