History and handshakes: Five key takeaways from the Korea summit

It was more than a decade since the last inter-Korean summit and Friday’s meeting in the Demilitarised Zone that has divided the two nations since the end of the Korean War in 1953 did not disappoint.

With some genuinely historical moments and some jaw-dropping ad-libbing, along with hugs and smiles aplenty, here are five things we learned from the landmark talks.


From an emotional handshake across the Military Demarcation Line to a warm embrace after signing the joint declaration, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in seemed to forge a genuine connection.

There were few moments in public when the cameras didn’t catch the two leaders sharing a joke, with the jovial Kim reducing the South’s delegation to giggles with a gag about Northern noodles.

In an completely unscripted moment when he arrived, Kim grabbed Moon’s hand and led him over the border to the North before they returned hand-in-hand, in an image that will provide the lasting memory of the summit.

Many were also surprised by how long – more than 30 minutes – the leaders spent deep in earnest one-on-one conversation sitting on a bench surrounded by trees and birdsong, with Kim giving every indication he was listening intently to his counterpart.

Transport troubles up North

In an admission that not everything is rosy on the northern side of the border, Kim said its transport infrastructure might make a trip by Moon to visit the scenic and culturally significant Mount Paektu “uncomfortable”.

Kim also said his delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang had praised South Korea’s high-speed train networks.

Moon replied that the two countries should link up their train systems so that everyone could enjoy high-speed travel.

The parlous state of roads in North Korea is no secret – 32 Chinese tourists were killed earlier this week in a bus crash – but Kim’s acknowledgement of it was unusual. A sisterly hand

If there were any doubt before about what an important role Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong plays in his life, it was banished as she seemed to spend almost the entire day at his side.

She was on hand during both the formal talks – taking notes as he made his opening remarks – and the more informal moments of the summit, collecting his white gloves after a ceremonial tree-planting.

But at one point, she found herself too close to the action and strayed into shot as the two leaders walked along the red carpet.

Following frantic gestures from the North’s protocol director, she veered swiftly to her right, leaving only her brother and Moon in shot.

Fitness first in North Korea

We also learned that you have to be fit to be a North Korean bodyguard, as 12 of Kim’s security staff trotted along next to his car to form a human shield.

The pace was sedate on the way to lunch but considerably more brisk on the way back, with one of the lead guards appearing distinctly out of breath.

The North Korean phalanx was dressed to kill in matching sharp suits, and possibly also armed to kill, with many a suspicious bulge under the jackets.

– Style not substance? –

Despite the sunny optics of the summit, some questioned whether there had been a great deal of progress on the key issues, ahead of a likely summit showdown between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

Despite a written declaration pledging denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Kim made no reference to it after the signing and while analysts said the summit was a positive first step, some questioned how many genuine concessions he had made.

The declaration “appears to use recycled language and does not contain any tangible or verifiable commitments from the North,” noted Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.


© Agence France-Presse

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Richard Carter
Richard Carter
News editor for @afp in Japan. Former Europe/Africa desk chief. Ex Berlin, Brussels, Paris.

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