Asia-Pacific

Why the Trump-Kim summit matters to these Australians

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Five Australians with a special connection to North Korea tell SBS News what they're hoping the historic summit will achieve.

When US President Donald Trump meets his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un on Tuesday in Singapore, the eyes of the world will be on them. 

SBS News spoke to members of Australia's Korean community and others with a connection to North Korea about their hopes for the summit. 

Sean Kim

Korean Society of Sydney committee member

Korean Society of Sydney committee member Sean Kim says the Trump-Kim summit is a dream come true.
Sean Kim can't wait for the summit.
SBS News

Sydney lawyer Sean Kim, who is on the city's Korean Society committee, said the US-North Korea summit is a dream come true.

“Everyone I know here is very excited. It’s news that we follow every day because it’s a life-changing event. It’s not only groundbreaking but history in the making.”

It’s a life-changing event.

Not only is there a lot at stake politically, for lawyer Mr Kim, it's also personal.

His father was born in North Korea and escaped as a young child and the pair are hopeful the meeting could pave the way for reunification between the two Koreas.  

“For people like my father, they could go back to their homeland to their birthplace and revisit the country, so positive things like that will happen.” 

He paid tribute to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is pro-unification, for bringing the unconventional leaders together. He said he believed Kim Jong-un was "nothing like his predecessors; he is open-minded and he’s willing to talk".

Australia can play an important role in achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, he added.

“I’ll speak very frankly,  I think Australia needs to press its own diplomatic stance on this issue, rather than align itself with the United States.”

Michael Kirby

Chaired a UN probe into human rights abuses in North Korea

Former High Court justice Michael Kirby
Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby.
Getty Image

Before former High Court Justice Michael Kirby began his investigation into human rights abuses in North Korea, he knew little more than the average educated Australian about the "closed and oppressive state".

"The situation was much more shocking than I had expected," he said. "I felt as if I was back in time, back in the period immediately after the Second World War when international military tribunals and other investigations were conducted into the Nazi horrors."

His 2014 report found there were at least 100,000 prisoners and up to 150,000 held in detention camps. 

"As well as that there are public executions, there are chronic food shortages, people actually starve to death."

Kim Jong-un's nuclear weapons may be top of the agenda for the US, but Justice Kirby says human rights shouldn't be forgotten. He stressed it better that the leaders are talking than maintaining what he describes as the "infantile" silent treatment policy of the past.

"But It depends on what they’re talking about it and it depends on their willingness to take time and work around the periphery and ultimately to get to the really hard cards in the pack; human rights and nuclear weapons."

Raymond Ferguson

DPRK-Australia Friendship Group secretary

Raymond Ferguson believes North Korea gets a bad reputation through the western media.
Raymond Ferguson can't wait for the leaders to meet.
Supplied.

Brisbane retiree Raymond Ferguson is secretary for the Australia Democratic Republic of North Korea Friendship Association. He believes North Korea is unfairly portrayed in the West.

"The DPRK gets a bad reputation particularly as a result of the western media and what they say on TV."

The DPRK gets a bad reputation.

During his 14 trips to North Korea, he has attended celebrations, participated in meetings and visited schools and hospitals. He was particularly impressed by the country's aged care system.

"I was so impressed and taken aback by the facilities and the treatment that the old age people in the DPRK and Pyongyang. It really amazed me and I thought we can learn a lot."

His two friendship medals from the rogue state are among his most prized possessions.

Mr Ferguson said he had noticed a rapid increase in the level of interest from Australians about North Korea and that it has coincided with more diplomatic activity. 

"It gives me an indication that the hostility by the average Australians against the DPRK is reducing and there’s more interest in learning about the country."

That makes him optimistic that the talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim will produce lasting change. 

"I don’t think either side can let this opportunity to go without some sort of principle agreements coming out of it that will allow for further discussions and hopefully a better position between the two countries." 

Bronwen Dalton

Set up a scholarship for North Koreans to study English

Dr Bronwen Dalton (left) believes the scholarship that allows North Korean students to study English in Sydney is a diplomatic win for Australia.
Dr Bronwen Dalton, left.
Supplied.

Each year, talented North Korean refugees living in South Korea vie for a scholarship to study English as part of 22-week intensive course run by the University of Technology Sydney. 

Bronwen Dalton, a frequent traveller to North Korea, was instrumental in setting up the program and says it has been a success both diplomatically and for the students. 

Engagement is the only option.

“It's the formative experience in their life and they’re committed to the Australia-Korea relationship in a much deeper way to the more cosmopolitan South Korean who goes skiing in America,” Dr Dalton told SBS News. 

“In the event of reunification or any other developments we have basically exposed the up and coming talent of the North Korean diaspora to Australia so it’s a great win.” 

She said she hoped the high-level discussions between Mr Kim and other world leaders will lead to greater engagement and encourage more institutions to form connections with North Koreans.

"Engagement is the only option. We've had hawkish policies, we've had sanctions and so on, they don't work. It’s the engagement, especially humanising, giving a human face to North Korea, that is our biggest protection from war."

Matt Kulesza

North Korea tour guide  

              Tour guide Matt Kulesza with two North Korean students.
Matt Kulesza with two North Korean students.
Supplied.

Matt Kulesza has worked as a tour guide at Young Pioneer tours for the last two years, helping scores of tourists satisfy their curiosity about the mysterious North Korea.  

"I personally don't believe in further shutting out North Korea from the rest of the world, and feel cultural exchange and dialogue - even through something as basic as tourism - is extremely important in better understanding each other," he said. 

Mr Kulesza said he was excited about Tuesday's summit and the potential it has to improve the lives of North Koreans. 

"The recent talks are indeed historical as we've never seen a US president in office meet with any North Korean leaders.

"I truly hope it results in the reduction of aggressive rhetoric between both sides and [marks] the beginnings of a more peaceful dialogue and future between the two countries."

SBS News will broadcast the 12 June summit live on TV, online and Facebook

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