Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

War unlikely: local Koreans

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PETER Hyoungjin Cho stares out a window at Red River College's downtown campus, but his thoughts are halfway around the world.

The 39-year-old business administration student and his wife moved here from Korea in 2011 to build a better life, but if war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, he will have to leave his family and his hopes of a life in Canada behind. As a captain and intelligence officer in the army reserves in South Korea, he will be headed to the DMZ between North and South Korea — the world's most unfriendly and dangerous border.

"If I don't go back to my country, I can be jailed. If I become a permanent resident in Canada, I would not have to go."

Cho spent 11 years in the South Korean military as an intelligence and anti-terrorism officer before moving to Winnipeg to further his studies and find a new job. He served in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

He talks often with his friends and family back home. Most of the time they talk about movies and celebrities, but lately they have started to talk about their neighbour to the north, and its new, young leader, Kim Jong-un.

"Most Koreans say Kim Jong Un is too young and he doesn't know how to do diplomatic issues. He doesn't know how to run an economy. After his father's death, he has shown us many ridiculous things. His people are hungry, but he plays basketball with Dennis Rodman."

Cho says the people he has talked with back home in South Korea are not concerned war is about to break out.

"My parents are there, my friends, my family, and my brother. They don't care about North Korea's provocation. It's a usual thing in the Korean peninsula. For 60 years, after the Korean war, they have been menacing. It isn't the right thing to ignore the provocation, but I don't think there is going be a war."

Simon Kim, another of the estimated 20,000 Koreans who live in Winnipeg, works at Arirang Oriental Food Market. He left Korea and his hometown of Seoul 10 years ago.

He also said he's not overly concerned about the possibility of a larger conflict, but he points to the inexperience of the North Korean leader as a cause for the growing tensions.

"I think he needs power and that's why he's doing that. They just want to show their pride to the world."

At the Red River campus, Cho points at the Public Safety Building across the street. His goal is to become a police officer in Winnipeg.

"It's the family business."

But it's a dream that could be derailed by an untested and hostile leader half a world away.

Cho likes to look at a cartoon he has saved on his tablet. It shows two small children trying to fight and get at each other. One is South Korea and the other is the North. The two children are being held back by their parents. America is holding back the South and China is doing the same to the North.

Cho hopes the parents prevail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2013 A4

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