North and South Korea hold historic summit

The leaders of the two Koreas held a landmark summit Friday after a highly symbolic handshake over the Military Demarcation Line that divides their countries, with the North’s Kim Jong-un declaring they were at the “threshold of a new history”.

Kim said he was “filled with emotion” after stepping over the concrete blocks, making him the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War ended in an armistice 65 years ago.

At Kim’s impromptu invitation the two men briefly crossed hand-in-hand into the North before walking to the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom for the summit — only the third of its kind since hostilities ceased in 1953.

“I came here determined to send a starting signal at the threshold of a new history,” said Kim, whose nuclear-armed regime is accused of widespread human rights abuses.

With the North’s atomic arsenal high on the agenda, Moon Jae-in responded that he hoped they would reach “a bold agreement so that we may give a big gift to the whole Korean people and the people who want peace”.

Kim was flanked by his sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong and the North’s head of inter-Korean relations, while Moon was accompanied by his spy chief and chief of staff.

It is the highest-level encounter yet in a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy, and intended to pave the way for a much-anticipated encounter between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said that Kim will “open-heartedly discuss … all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula”.

But it did not mention denuclearisation, and as images of the leaders’ handshake were beamed around the world, the North’s state television showed only a test card.

Last year Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear blast, by far its most powerful to date, and launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.


Its actions sent tensions soaring as Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war.

Moon seized on the South’s Winter Olympics as an opportunity to broker dialogue between them, and has said his meeting with Kim will serve to set up the summit between Pyongyang and Washington.

The White House said it hoped the summit would “achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula”.

Trump has demanded the North give up its weapons, and Washington is pressing for it to do so in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.

Seoul played down expectations before the summit, saying the North’s technological advances in its nuclear and missile programmes made the summit “all the more difficult”.

After the morning session, Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan said the two leaders had had a “sincere and frank dialogue over the denuclearisation of, and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Peace and denuclearisation

Pyongyang is demanding as yet unspecified security guarantees to discuss its arsenal.

When Kim visited the North’s key backer Beijing last month in only his first foreign trip as leader, China’s state media cited him saying that the issue could be resolved, as long as Seoul and Washington take “progressive and synchronous measures for the realisation of peace”.

In the past, North Korean support for denuclearisation of the “Korean peninsula” has been code for the removal of US troops from the South and the end of its nuclear umbrella over its security ally — prospects unthinkable in Washington.

Moon said he hoped they would have further meetings on both sides of the peninsula, and Kim offered to visit Seoul “any time” he was invited.

But Robert Kelly of Pusan National University warned that Pyongyang “hasn’t really changed, and it hasn’t offered a meaningful concession yet”, adding there were still “huge” strategic and political divisions between the North on one hand, and the South and the US on the other.

Yonsei University professor John Delury said the post-summit statement will give “a lot of chance to analyse every word, (read) between the lines, look for things that are there and not there”.

Pyongyang announced last week a moratorium on nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missiles, adding it would dismantle its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

But it also said it had completed the development of its weapons and had no need for further tests.

Tree planting

Seoul has also promoted the idea of opening talks towards a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, when hostilities stopped with a ceasefire, leaving the neighbours technically in a state of conflict.

Reunions of families left divided by the war could also be discussed at the summit, and Moon told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he would raise the emotive subject of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North.

After a morning session lasting an hour and 40 minutes, Kim crossed back to the North for lunch, a dozen security guards jogging alongside his limousine.

Before the afternoon session, Moon and Kim were to hold a symbolic tree planting ceremony on the demarcation line.

The soil will come from Mount Paektu, on the North’s border with China, and Mount Halla, on the South’s southern island of Jeju.

After they sign an agreement, a joint statement will be issued, with a banquet attended by the leaders’ wives to follow in the evening and a farewell before Kim returns to the North.

© Agence France-Presse

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Sunghee Hwang
Sunghee Hwang

Sunghee Hwang is a journalist at AFP.

Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday