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Family reunions hoped to mark new period of relations between North and South Korea -

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NICK GRIMM: Hundreds of family members separated between North and South Korea have been meeting for the first time in decades this week as part of short, staged reunions.

It's been almost two years since reunions were held and it's hoped this will mark a new period of cooperation between the two Koreas.

Natalie Whiting filed this report from South Korea.

TOURIST GUIDE: The tall, grey building to your front is called the Panmungak. It is an observation post for the visitors of North Korea.

NATALIE WHITING: A demilitarized zone separates North and South Korea. Soldiers from both sides are stationed here: a reminder the war never actually ended.

Dr Hyun In-Ae fled North Korea more than a decade ago after her husband was arrested as a political prisoner.

HYUN IN-AE (translation): When I was in North Korea I knew it was a struggle, but I did not realise how desperate it was. But since I came to South Korea, I have learned how difficult the situation is in North Korea.

NATALIE WHITING: She presumes her husband is dead and she worries about the people in North Korea.

HYUN IN-AE (translation): Yes, I do worry a lot. They are living in very difficult conditions.

NATALIE WHITING: South Korea wants to see an end to the line between the countries and is continuing to push for unification.

The vice-president of the Korean Institute for National Unification, Cho Min, says, as North Korea's ally and economic lifeline, China has an important role to play.

CHO MIN (translation): China has to play an even greater role than the US for the North and South Koreas to obtain peace and stability. China also has to provide its full understanding and support for South and North Korea to work on cooperating together.

NATALIE WHITING: He thinks unification could happen in five to 10 years' time.

The South Korean president, Park Guen-Hye, has been wooing China to try to garner support.

Beijing's foreign policy leaders hope North Korea will open up to the world. But China has been showing signs of losing patience with the dangerous instability of Kim Jong-Un's regime.

Dr Hyun also thinks China could be the key to unification.

HYUN IN-AE (translation): Because without China, it's going to be very difficult for North Korea to even survive.

North Korea is about 70 or 80 per cent dependent on trade with China. So if the Chinese government did place a force on the North Korean government, then North Korea will have no choice but listen to the opinion of the Chinese government.

NATALIE WHITING: But she warns the North Korean regime will resist any attempts at building a unified Korea.

NICK GRIMM: Natalie Whiting reporting.

And Natalie travelled to South Korea as part of the Australia-Korea Journalist Exchange, with support from the Walkley Foundation and the Korea Press Council.