People living in Korea remain at once skeptical and hopeful of the historical inter-Korean summit set to take place Friday in Panmunjeom, on the border of the two Koreas.
North Korean denuclearization and the establishment of peace on the peninsula are among the key items to be discussed at the table between Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In recent months, roughly since the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, the North has shown unprecedented overtures in favor of negotiation, agreeing to meet with other country leaders and exchanging cultural performances with the South.
Many found the “charm offensive” surprising but thought it was at least partially genuine.
Meanwhile, interviewees agreed that wholly trusting the North’s advances at face value is unwise, given the hermit kingdom’s past belligerence.
The seemingly sudden pivot in Kim’s stance is baffling, said Kim Ji-yoo, a university student majoring in international trade.
“It felt like the North had been conducting more nuclear tests in recent years,” said Kim. Since declaring ownership of a nuclear arsenal in 2005, North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, three of which occurred within 2016 and 2017.
But the mere fact that the two Koreas have begun communicating again seems significant, Kim said. But she wondered whether the North would ever truly give up its nuclear program when it has been using the weaponry as its key negotiation tool for so long.
“Since talks have begun and conversation has opened up, we might see positive results in the long run,” Kim said.
Even if peace were to be established on the peninsula, many Koreans say they have no idea what to expect, having grown so used to constant tension with North Korea.
“I suppose it would do a lot to cut back on resources like the military budget if there were something like the declaration of the end of war,” said Park Da-jung, a university student studying international bio-convergence. “But I can’t imagine how it will impact our day-to-day lives.”
Rohan, an exchange student from London studying international relations and politics, believes Kim Jong-un could be persuaded to let go of the country’s nuclear program if it leads to the stabilization of his regime and some sort of economic aid. In the face of multiple threats and sanctions, it seems Kim has little room for other options, he said.
“His overall, larger aim is a strong and stable country, I think,” he said. “He has to now try to find other ways to achieve his goal of making North Korea a powerful, independent country, without nuclear weapons.”
It’s come to a point where Kim is being forced into a corner to consider alternatives, perhaps such as gradually opening the country’s long-isolated, yet increasingly export-reliant economy, he said.
“So Kim could be persuaded (to denuclearize). At least, everyone’s trying pretty hard to do that.”
Local and foreign residents in Seoul discuss on Wednesday their expectations of the inter-Korean summit, to take place Friday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Americans living in Korea focused on how the Friday talks would lead to future negotiations with US President Trump.
Luke, a US national studying Korean here, reluctantly said that Trump’s aggressive tactics against Kim Jong-un seemed to be holding ground.
“Even though I tend to find the methods that have been used rather abnormal ... I think it might actually be one of those cases where, I remember as a child being told if somebody is a bully, maybe the only language they understand is also being tough back,” he said.
The US leader has pressing for a speedy and complete resolution following the upcoming talks, vowing Tuesday to put “maximum pressure” on North Korea to “get rid of their nukes.” Because a gradual denuclearization approach failed numerous times in the past, the US is pushing for a complete, verifiable, irreversible and, it seems, immediate denuclearization.
The quickly shifting international landscape seems to point to the North’s denuclearization, said Kwak Dong-min, a 50-year-old Korean businessman who has been living in China for 15 years.
“I think now, many of the (related countries) have come to some kind of rough consensus on a common agenda,” he said. “There’s been a bit of a cold war (in recent years) trying to find that point, but I think we’ve found it, and it’s leading toward peace.”
For Kwak, who imports Korean food into China, the future of the North Korean economy is his biggest point of interest. “If North Korea were to begin opening up its economy more, I believe we’ll see an immense economic change in the Asian region.”
The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation
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