On September 18th, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his close to 200-member delegation completed their first day of summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, North Korea.
This is the third face-to-face meeting between the Korean leaders in 2018, however, according to South Korean spokesman Yoon Young-chan it celebrated a number of firsts. Yoon told reporters that this is the first time Kim has opened a summit in Pyongyang. The military band, he added, welcomed the South Korean delegation with music usually reserved for the upper echelon of North Korea’s leadership.
It was also the first time Moon and Kim walked down the red carpet at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport and the South Korean leader inspected North Korean troops.
The two men, accompanied by their wives, embraced after Moon walked down the steps of his aircraft, before talking for a few minutes ahead of a welcome ceremony and a field gun salute, television pictures showed.
Following the welcome ceremony at the airport and separate lunches, the first session of the inter-Korean summit began at 3:45 p.m. local time, in the headquarters of the Central Committee of the North Korean Worker’s Party.
Prior to the leaders’ summit, Moon’s wife, Kim Jung-sook departed for Okyu Children’s Hospital at 2:30 p.m. accompanied by Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju.
Other South Korean envoys met with the chairperson of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Young-nam, Tuesday afternoon, while business leaders met with Deputy Prime Minister of Ri Yong Nam.
Leaders from three of Seoul’s political parties were scheduled to meet the Vice Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, An Dong Chun. Delegates who represent civil society sectors met with Kim Young Dae, chairman of the Social Democratic Party.
Following the summit, President Moon and the South Korean delegation will watch a performance of the Samjyun Orchestra at the Pyongyang Grand Theater, located on the Daedong River in Pyongyang.
The first day is to conclude at 9 pm local time.
The primary focus of Moon’s trip is to address ways to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula and ensure lasting peace, avoiding armed conflict. His second priority is to “facilitate North Korea-United States dialogue for denuclearization.”
Moon says denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved without direct talks been Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I have confirmed the true will of Chairman Kim Jong Un and President Trump several times. I believe that the denuclearization issue can be progressed at a rapid pace if the two leaders face each other again and talk,” the South Korean president said.
Yoon said that Moon would relay the outcome of the denuclearization discussion with Kim directly to Trump during the UN General Assembly later in September.
The US continues to accuse North Korea of not fulfilling its duties under the denuclearization deal, however it has recently become apparent that it is, in fact, the US that appears to be failing its part of the deal. Despite US failure, relations between the South and North appear to be steadily improving.
There has been no press conference or news of the progress of the summit as of now.
There is, however, no shortage of expectations, albeit most of them limited.
According to the Eurasia Group, the meeting “will probably generate rosy headlines but do little to accelerate efforts to denuclearize North Korea.” Kim would push for enhanced North-South cooperation “especially in areas that promise economic benefits for the North,” it added.
In terms of economic cooperation, Moon has been pushing inter-Korean cooperation, but several South Korean newspapers urged caution on September 17th, with the Korea Herald calling the businessmen’s presence on the trip “untimely.” The businessmen in question are including Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong and the vice chairman of Hyundai Motor, among others.
“It is better to postpone economic projects involving the North until after negotiations to remove its nuclear program make substantial progress,” the Korea Herald said in an editorial.
Despite US accusations and limited expectations, the fact is that relations between the South and North appear to be steadily improving, with both sides claiming that they wish to leave armed conflict in the past, which is definitely a welcome outcome.