April 26, 2018

Pacific islands 'in the crossfire between major powers' hope for peace at summit

As the world watches to see the outcome of today's talks between North and South Korea, tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific are hoping it will mean a stop to the constant threat of a nuclear attack.

Guam, only 3,400 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 7,000 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.

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 Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump.

“We certainly hope [the talks] work out well, 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 governments 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 vice-president and minister of state Sandra Pierantozzi said.

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

The inter-Korean meeting sets the stage for a possible summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump, which could be as soon as next month.

No time or date has been set, but Republican member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, Gene Ward, has written to Trump to say it should be held in Hawaii.

“The importance of these talks cannot be underestimated. The importance of Hawaii being a place to do the talks can't be underestimated,” said Ward.

Hawaii, 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.

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.

SOURCE: ABC/PACNEWS

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