'The world needs more peacemakers': B.C. man from South Korea reflects on diplomatic summit

Ken Lee immigrated to Canada from South Korea more than four decades ago, but never stopped following what was happening halfway across the world on the Korean peninsula.

20 nations gathered in Vancouver on Tuesday to discuss North Korea diplomacy and sanctions

Ken Lee, far left, visiting his father and step siblings in North Korea in 1989. (Ken Lee)

Ken Lee immigrated to Canada from South Korea more than four decades ago, but never stopped following what was happening halfway across the world on the Korean peninsula.

This week, the North Korean crisis is particularly close to home as foreign ministers and diplomats gathered for a summit in Vancouver to discuss diplomatic solutions on Tuesday.

Lee, who has ties to both North and South Korea, hopes a peaceful resolution can be negotiated, he told CBC host of On The Coast Gloria Macarenko. 

"It's been very, very tense," he said. "Ever since [the division of Korea in 1945] it's been a horrible situation."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland co-hosted Tuesday's foreign minister's meeting in Vancouver that seeks diplomatic solutions to the North Korean crisis. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Discussions at the latest summit, organized by Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, focused on reducing the threat from North Korea's nuclear weapons program through sanctions and diplomacy.

'Different world'

For Lee, the recent mounting tensions are one more chapter in a long story of conflict.

His father was taken by the North Korean army during the war, leaving Lee to be raised by his grandmother in South Korea.

Lee travelled to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, for the first and only time in 1989 to visit his father and step-brothers for a family wedding.

"They are completely living in a different world," he said.

Ken Lee's father, at left, was a well-know musician taken away by the North Korean army when Lee was a child. It was several decades before father and son were reunited. (Ken Lee)

Canada's role 

Diplomats and ministers from 20 countries gathered at the summit, but China and Russia, the two powerhouse nations which border North Korea, were not invited. Both countries have dismissed the value of the Vancouver conference. 

"Not only did they not come, but they seem to be quite angry at having this meeting that they are not participating in," said Aurel Braun, a professor at the University of Toronto.

Braun said their absence does not detract from the potential of the summit.

"We would like to see a united front where the countries that attend are basically on the same page regarding increasing sanctions, we also want to see a reinforcement of the diplomatic option," he said.

Lee said he hopes to see Canada support peaceful negotiations with North Korea with actions like human exchange programs, dialogue and mediation.

"The world needs peacemakers, not for everyone to get confrontational," he said.

With files from On The Coast.