Moon's trip to Pyongyang ends on symbolic high

Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. South Korean
Above: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signal a high point in their countries' ties as their wives Ri Sol Ju (left) and Kim Jung-sook cheer on the top of Mount Baekdu yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. South Korean
Mr Kim and his wife sending off Mr Moon and his wife at Samjiyon airport yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. South Korean
Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. South Korean
North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

S. Korean leader's popularity rises as he visits peninsula's highest peak with North's Kim

It had been South Korean President Moon Jae-in's long-cherished wish, and it came true as he wrapped up his visit to the North yesterday.

The avid hiker, together with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, went up Mount Baekdu, the most sacred peak on the peninsula, in a visit that analysts say was loaded with symbolism about the oneness of the divided country.

Inter-Korea ties have improved dramatically since the two leaders first met in April. Mr Moon's visit - the two leaders' third meeting - sealed agreements to remove nuclear weapons and threats of war.

Speaking to about 1,000 reporters immediately on his return to Seoul yesterday, Mr Moon said he and Mr Kim had open and frank talks to deepen relations.

Closer exchanges are set to continue with a likely visit by Mr Kim to Seoul by the end of the year.

"Chairman Kim coming to Seoul will open up a new era where our leaders can come and go for talks freely," Mr Moon said.

"I hope South Korean people will get the opportunity to hear his voice and his thoughts about denuclearisation, peace and prosperity."

The warming ties saw Mr Moon's approval ratings rebound after they plunged over his failed economic policies. From a low of 52.3 per cent on Sept 4, the ratings shot back up to 61.4 per cent after the Mount Baekdu trip was announced on Wednesday, according to the latest Realmeter poll.

Members of a conservative group in South Korea protesting yesterday against the third inter-Korea summit in Pyongyang. North Koreans bidding farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife as they depart for Seoul yesterday. South Korean
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) and Mr Choe Ryong-hae, vice-chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, watering a memorial tree they planted in Pyongyang on Wednesday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LESS RAH-RAH PROBABLY

It'd be interesting when Kim Jong Un comes to Seoul. But I'm not sure if my students will go out waving pom poms.

PROFESSOR JOHN DELURY, of Yonsei University.

 
 

A separate survey by Realmeter showed that 58.6 per cent of 501 respondents support the expansion of inter-Korea exchanges to ease tensions and expedite denuclearisation. The figure is double the 29.1 per cent who think that easing pressure on the North will hinder denuclearisation.

Analysts noted the Pyongyang Summit achieved many firsts that were previously unimaginable. For instance, Mr Moon delivered a speech in front of 150,000 cheering North Koreans in a stadium.

"This would have been unthinkable in the eras before Kim Jong Un," said Dr Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute think-tank.

"This is only possible because Kim has deep trust in President Moon, and he showed utmost sincerity and spent the most time together with Moon from the beginning to the end of the summit."

Dr Cheong said the visit to Mount Baekdu, also spelt Paektu, symbolised how the two Koreas are "one entity sharing the same destiny".

North Korea rolled out the red carpet for Mr Moon to "project an image of sincerity in this peace process", noted Professor John Delury of Yonsei University.

"It'd be interesting when Kim Jong Un comes to Seoul. But I'm not sure if my students will go out waving pom poms."

Seoul residents whom The Straits Times spoke to expressed a mixture of hope and concern.

Retiree Lee Seon-kyu, 71, admitted he used to be prejudiced against the North. But seeing Mr Moon address 150,000 North Koreans made him realise that "we are the same race".

"I'm so proud of President Moon. I hope we can keep up dialogue with the North and ease the tension between us," he said.

Student Lee Ju-bin, 17, was worried about how anti-North conservatives would react to Mr Kim's planned visit to Seoul.

"What if they threaten Kim Jong Un and it sparks a war?" she asked.

A North Korean defector, who declined to be named, is more hopeful, saying: "I hope the Korean peninsula will be unified one day so I can go back to my hometown Pyongyang."

• Additional reporting by Dami Shin

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2018, with the headline 'Moon's trip to Pyongyang ends on symbolic high'. Print Edition | Subscribe