North and South Korea agree to work towards lasting peace

‘Just like a pine tree, I hope our relationship will be forever green,’ says Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un has become the first North Korean leader to enter South Korea, stepping across the military line to shake hands with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, before the two walked briefly back across the border in a surprise move.

 

Kim Jong-un clasped hands with Moon Jae-in as the two leaders stepped over the detested border that has riven the Korean peninsula for 65 years. It was a powerfully symbolic gesture at the start of an epic day, one that ended with a pledge to strive for lasting peace and tapped deep emotions on both sides of the demilitarised zone.

“When do I get to visit the North?” the South Korean president asked Kim, who minutes earlier became the first North Korean leader to tread on South Korean soil.

There were gasps from the reporters in the media centre as Kim turned to Moon and said: “Why don’t you just come over to the North side now?”

Surprise turned to laughter as Kim, wearing the Mao Zedong-style suit favoured by his family during three generations of rule in North Korea, led the business-suited Moon across the line into the North, for just a few moments.

Nearly 3,000 journalists gathered to cover the event from the media centre in Goyang, 16km from Panmunjom, in the demilitarised zone between North and South where the summit took place. This correspondent was interviewed four times, as local media asked if their hopes for peace were shared by the rest of the world.

Formal peace treaty

One TV journalist welled up as he asked his questions. “Peace!” he said. “This is a big deal for us Koreans. I am very moved by this.”

Although the joint communiqué, which agrees to work towards denuclearisation and sign a formal peace treaty inside a year, is low on detail, Koreans are keenly aware that symbols are crucial to lasting peace.

The desk at which the leaders sat was 2,018mm wide, to mark the year of the summit, and organisers had an automatically generated emoji symbol to go with the #interkorean Twitter handle.

The menu choice of Swiss rösti was a nod to Kim’s childhood in a Swiss international school, and the John Dory fish a symbol of Moon’s youth in the port city of Busan.

Drive a wedge

Sceptics believe Kim wants to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US before a planned summit with US president Donald Trump in the coming weeks. But for now, most seem transported by the symbols of Korea’s common experience.

The two leaders planted a pine tree on the border, using water from Taedong river in the North and the Han River in the South, and soil from Mount Paektu in North Korea and Mount Halla in the South.

“Just like a pine tree, I hope our relationship will be forever green,” said Kim.

“Yes, it will,” said Moon.

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