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Tuesday, September 17, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Single Flag -- North And South Korea Join U.N. And The World

THIS week marks a remarkable moment in the history of the Korean peninsula as both North and South Korea are admitted as members to the United Nations.

On his way to address the U.N. General Assembly, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo will be in Seattle Friday to meet briefly with the local Korean community. In many ways, this is a triumphal moment for Roh and the culmination of his country's efforts to join the U.N. despite long opposition from North Korea, China and the Soviet Union.

In admitting the two Koreas, U.N. members are undoubtedly accepting the economic reality of the south rather than the isolationism of the north. Since the end of the Korean War, South Korea has become one of the Pacific Rim's four energetic engines of dynamic growth - joining Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in pure economic hustle.

The results have been astonishing. The average per capita income in South Korea is $5,000 a year, compared to less than $1,000 a year in the north.

Equally as remarkable as United Nations membership is the way the two Koreas are talking to each other. North and South Korea will be represented at the 1992 Olympics by one team under a single Korean peninsula flag. The two sides are not friends but they may not be enemies any more. Bringing both countries into the U.N. reduces the risk of conflict and encourages discussion before the world body about issues in that corner of the northern Pacific, including driftnet fishing.

For the U.S., the implications of the Korean developments clearly affect the number of American troops needed in South Korea. How can a country even as well armed as North Korea hope to invade a neighbor that is intricately linked to the Western economic bloc? With barely enough roads and trucks to move vegetables around, how could the North Koreans overcome a country bursting with expressways and Hyundai plants?

For North Korea, the tide of history is moving swiftly to sea. On their barren beach, the North Koreans must know they can only survive with help from South Korea, a country that owes its existence to the United Nations it now joins.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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