A Historic Meeting In South Korea

Apr 30, 2018 By Mehek K, Writer Intern
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Last Friday, all cameras were on North Korea's Kim Jong-un as he emerged from a building in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and walked over to where the South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in stood. 

The DMZ is a heavily fortified two-mile-wide zone that separates the two Koreas, with barbed wires on either side, guards on watchtowers and landmines. 

The two leaders shook hands before Kim crossed the line into South Korea. After a red carpet welcome, the two had private discussions and jointly planted a pine tree from 1953 (the year the Korean War ended) as a symbolic gesture of peace. Later in the evening, after a grand banquet and show where they were joined by their wives, Mr. Kim left back for North Korea. 

This is the first time a North Korean leader has crossed into South Korea. Why is this meeting historic and what did the two leaders discuss?

A Secretive North Korea

During World War II, the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia) split Korea along the border that exists today (see related articles). Relations between the two Koreas remained cold and tense until the Korean War of 1950, an attack by North Korea on South Korea.

The fighting ceased with the signing of an armistice treaty and the DMZ was established. However, the war never ended officially and families that were separated lost all contact with each other. North Korea isolated itself and created one of the worst dictatorial governments the world has seen in the last century. 

Kim Jong-un is the grandson of the first communist leader of North Korea. He came to power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. Although he has created some beneficial reforms, his rule has also been characterized by oppression and violence. He has executed many people including his uncle and his stepbrother for treason. Reports from the country speak of multiple human rights violations, forced labor, famines and extreme poverty, and a people living in fear. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un has continued the testing and development of nuclear weapons, despite a promise to halt nuclear development in 2012. 

Why Meet Now?

Some believe Mr. Kim took time to establish himself. Now that he has control over his country and has developed a strong nuclear program, he is eager to connect with his neighbors. The joint Olympic games were the first step.

Others think that the sanctions are starting to hurt North Korea, and he needs to rebuild relationships with China (whom he met recently in secret) and South Korea. 

Meanwhile, South Korea's Moon Jae-in has been eager to open relations with North Korea, in part due to the influence of his friend and mentor Roh Moon-hyun. The two worked together as human rights advocates, and Mr. Roh (who was South Korea's President from 2003-2008) wanted to improve relations with North Korea. But he passed away in 2009, leaving Mr. Moon to continue what he had begun. Mr. Moon is one of the most liberal leaders South Korea has seen and is focused on eliminating nuclear weapons, decentralizing the government, and creating income equality.

The summit concluded with the two leaders agreeing to sign a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War. The North Korean leader has agreed to abandon nuclear weapons (though details are not clear), stop all communist propaganda, assure safe fishing operations in the local waters, and hold joint cultural and sports activities. He has even invited the South Korean leader to the North.

Can North Korea's Kim be trusted? Some say no, but this summit is encouraging. It is a step towards a future meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un to discuss relations between the US and North Korea.

Sources: NYTimes, CNN, BBC, AlJazeera, WashingtonPost, ABC Australia