Korea: the State of Play

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Kim Youn-su, SJ

 Kim Youn-su, SJ / Church Life / 21 August 2018


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On April 27, 2018, a historic meeting took place between Moon Jae-in, the president of the Republic of Korea, and Kim Jong-un, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The meeting concluded with a declaration affirming their mutual commitment to bringing war between the countries to an end and building a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. The success of this inter-Korean summit paved the way to a historic meeting between the North Korean leader and the president of the United States in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

Enthusiasm was expressed by many Koreans and international observers, but there were also skeptics.

Hoping for continued progress for the peace process both on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, we would like to retrace these recent events step-by-step, offering our own assessment and perspective on the future.

 

Building trust between Moon and Kim

The April 27 summit between Moon and Kim was the third between the Korean heads of state. The previous two summits took place in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and this one took place in South Korea at the “Peace House” in the southern part of Panmunjom. This was the first time that the North Korean leader had set foot in South Korean territory, entering the country by means of a structure built on the border where the armistice had been ratified by the two nations in 1953.

After having crossed the border at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Kim was warmly welcomed by President Moon, who immediately asked, “Now that you have come to the South, when can I visit the North?” Kim responded, “Would you like to enter North Korea now?” Kim and Moon then stepped over together into North Korean territory hand-in-hand before reentering the South and beginning the official welcome ceremony, during which they continually exchanged cordial signs of friendship and goodwill. The most important moment occurred when the two met privately for a half-hour dialogue on a nearby jetty.

After the summit, 77.5 percent of South Koreans described Kim Jong-un as trustworthy, 86.3 percent approved the way Moon conducted himself, and 88.7 percent called the summit a success.[1] These figures suggest a strong desire for reconciliation on the part of the people.

Pope Francis had earnestly followed these events and, two days before the summit at his General Audience on April 25, he expressed support for the efforts of the two leaders: “To the Korean peoples who fervently desire peace, I assure my personal prayers and the closeness of the entire Church. The Holy See accompanies, supports and encourages any useful and sincere initiative to build a better future in the spirit of encounter and friendship among peoples. I ask those who have direct political responsibilities to have the courage of hope by becoming ‘artisans’ of peace and I call them to continue with trust along the path they have begun for the good of all.”[2]

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