SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un for the third time this year amid a deadlock in denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea.
During a three-day summit in the North Korean capital, both leaders are expected to discuss ways of defusing military tension along their heavily fortified border, as well as restarting their joint economic cooperation with massive investments from the South.
The summit, however, is not expected to yield tangible results about Pyongyang’s denuclearization, which is well down the list of agenda items for the Moon-Kim summit talks.
Upon his arrival at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, Moon and his wife Kim Jung-sook were greeted by Kim and his wife. With bright smiles, Kim hugged Moon, as he did at their second encounter at the northern part of the border village of Panmunjeom in May. Thousands of North Korean residents holding flower bouquets waved national and unification flags and an honor guard quick-marched in tight lines.
Riding a black convertible Mercedes limousine, both leaders rode together along the Pyongyang streets to the Paekhwawon State Guesthouse, while their wives shared a separate vehicle to the luxury guest house, where former South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun stayed during their summits with Kim Jong Un’s father in 2000 and 2007 respectively.
The first Moon-Kim meeting was held at 3:45 p.m. and continued for two hours at the headquarters of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. The two sides are expected to discuss ways toward signing a permanent peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which had ended in a truce, according to the presidential office.
Kim expressed his hope for progress in the nuclear talks with the US, thanking Moon for his balancing role between Washington and Pyongyang.
“Thanks to this (US-North Korea meeting), regional conditions stabilized and a more advanced outcome is expected,” the North Korean leader said at the start of the meeting.
Praising Kim’s “bold decision,” Moon said: “I feet the great weight we must bear, along with a heavy responsibility. I wish this will be a summit that produces abundant results as a gift to the 80 million people (of the Korean Peninsula) ahead of Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day).”
A day before departing to Pyongyang, Moon said on Twitter: “What I want to achieve is peace. Not a tentative change which could be volatile depending on the international situation, but irreversible, permanent and unwavering peace, regardless of what might happen in the global arena.”
As part of efforts to secure peace and closer ties with the communist North, Moon is expected to focus on ways of easing military tensions, including the possibility of disarming the Joint Security Area in the Panmunjeom, removing front-line guard posts and preventing naval conflicts along their boundary in the Yellow Sea.
Another key topic for this summit is expanding their joint economic projects that have been suspended for a decade owing to North Korea’s provocations, including nuclear tests and test-firings of ballistic missiles.
President Moon has pledged efforts to improve the North’s poor infrastructure, such as roads, railways and electricity supply under his so-called “New Economic Map Initiative.” To that end, Moon decided this time to take South Korean business tycoons with him to the reclusive state to let them discuss practical economic cooperation with North Korean officials.
Among those included in Moon’s economic delegation are Lee Jae-yong, heir to the Samsung Group; Choi Tae-won, chairman of SK Corporation; Koo Kwang-mo, CEO of LG Group; and Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of Hyundai Group.
But increasing economic engagement with the North has sparked a backlash since for now almost all inter-Korean economic projects with North Korea are prohibited by US-led United Nations economic sanctions on North Korea.
“It seems, being accompanied by business tycoons, President Moon wants to showcase his will to expand inter-Korean economic cooperation,” said Hyun Jin-kwon, an associate professor of the economics department at Ajou Unversity in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. “But it should be very cautious since North Korea is still imposed by economic sanctions. Any hasty business cooperation with the North could be a violation of the international sanctions.”
The inclusion of billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong is controversial as Lee was convicted of crimes related to a bribery scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye. Lee initially received a five-year prison term and later it was reduced to two and a half years and suspended. He awaits a final ruling.
“Trials are trials; work is work,” said Im Jong-seok, presidential chief of staff, the supervisor of this summit between Moon and Kim, at a press briefing Monday.
Im, Moon’s right-hand man, admitted this summit was not likely to be used as a breakthrough to the stalled denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
“It’s difficult to have any optimistic outlook (for progress on denuclearization),” he told reporters. “The summit is expected to produce meaningful agreements that fundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war (between the two Koreas).”