(ATTN: UPDATES as forum ended; ADDS more remarks in paras 9-13; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho and Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- Yonhap News Agency hosted an annual forum in Seoul on Tuesday to explore ways to reinvigorate efforts to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula in the post-coronavirus era.
The forum took place at Lotte Hotel under the main theme of "The Post-Corona era, New Opportunity for the Korean Peninsula?" It was to feature senior government officials, lawmakers and renowned scholars, including Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip, and Moon Chung-in, a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in.
The forum, co-hosted by the unification ministry, comes as uncertainty is rising over Seoul's drive for inter-Korean rapprochement due to the North's anger over propaganda leaflets sent from the South and an impasse in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
"This year marks the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. We still bear the scars of the war and the situation on the Korean Peninsula is not so smooth," Cho Sung-boo, president and CEO of Yonhap, said in opening remarks.
"I look forward to hearing the views of lawmakers and experts on the inter-Korean relations and finding solutions for a path toward reconciliation, cooperation and peace on the Korean Peninsula in the post-pandemic era," he said.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who was present at the opening, emphasized that building permanent peace is a road that both Koreas must take and urged North Korea to return to dialogue to work together to achieve that goal.
"The direction is clear and cannot be stopped. We must not reverse the past three years of the dire efforts we have made. Even if it may be slow, we should take one step each toward the road to peace," he said in a congratulatory speech.
"The government will do its best to manage the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a stable manner. I hope that North Korea will return to the dialogue table as soon as possible to resolve the difficult problems faced by the two Koreas through communication and cooperation."
Moon Chung-in, a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in, urged North Korea to offer an explanation about its demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office building and to change course and return to talks.
"It is hard for our people to accept that the North unilaterally blew it up like a show," he said in a keynote speech. "I believe there must be an explanation from the North about this."
In relation to the new coronavirus, Vice Health Minister Kim delivered a special lecture on Seoul's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been lauded by the international community as a model to benchmark.
While he touched on South Korea's success in flattening the curve, he said that the challenge remains as the country is facing another round of the pandemic with a recent spike in cluster infections.
"The biggest challenge facing us is fears that the COVID-19 pandemic will not end soon," Kim said at the forum, calling for people's active cooperation in efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Two panel sessions followed afterwards, with one addressing the "new Cold War" marked by a growing great power rivalry and its impact on the security situation of the divided peninsula.
Kim Joon-hyung, head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, spoke on the contours of international politics in the post-COVID-19 era and peace efforts on the peninsula.
Five-term Rep. Song Yong-gil of the ruling Democratic Party and four-term Rep. Park Jin of the main opposition United Future Party joined the session to discuss the prospects of inter-Korean ties and the role of the 21st National Assembly launched last month.
The second session, moderated by former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, proceeded with a debate on whether the two Koreas can move beyond the current rough patch and return to a reconciliatory track.
Koh Yu-hwan, the president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, delivered a presentation on how inter-Korean relations will move forward after the North's demolition earlier this month of an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong.
Due to the new coronavirus, organizers have kept the number of participants to a minimum. But the forum will be streamed live at its website (https://www.onekorea2020.co.kr).
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