Peace drive or performance? South Koreans ambivalent on Trump-Kim summit

A man fixes the electric line next to pictures of Vietnam, US and North Korean national flags in Hanoi on Feb 25, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korean summit.
A man fixes the electric line next to pictures of Vietnam, US and North Korean national flags in Hanoi on Feb 25, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korean summit.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - Will a second Trump-Kim summit bring economic gain to South Korea and lower the threat of nuclear destruction, or is it a risky game fraught with possible flashpoints?

Ahead of this week's meeting in Hanoi between the United States President and North Korean leader, citizens in Seoul are divided between hope, fear and mistrust - with some saying they are just too busy to care.


Ms Han Sung-lim, 63, says she would support reunification with North Korea if the regime completely dismantled its nuclear weapons programme and signalled its readiness to accept democracy.

"If there is a hidden agenda, I'm against it," she said, holding a bright umbrella on a snowy day in the South Korean capital.

Her scepticism towards the North is deeply rooted in her childhood.

She grew up under the military dictatorship of president Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and 1970s when anti-communist education was enforced at schools and Ms Han admits she has "strong objections" to communism.

But ideological differences aside, she pities the "poor, ragged" people in the North - which Ms Han views as one nation with the South - and expressed hopes that they will be "liberated" soon.


"We are in the position of providing help," she said. "If they are too persistent with their ideology, I'm opposed to that."


Mr Choi Jae-kwan was 12 when the Korean War broke out in 1950 and he vividly remembers the devastating three-year conflict which he says should "never be repeated".

"It was a fratricidal war, and if it happens again, both the North and South will turn into a sea of fire and we will all die," Mr Choi, now 81, told AFP.

More than two million Koreans - civilians and soldiers - were killed during the conflict, along with over 36,000 American and 600,000 Chinese troops who fought in the war.

The bloody battle ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.

But a formal end to the conflict is not just a matter for the two Koreas, Mr Choi said, and required the cooperation of other countries including the US, China and Russia.

"There is a need for them to take on a more generous role to offer advice and help," he said.


Ms Choi Ji-seung, a 29-year-old accounting student, said a formal declaration ending the Korean War would have "positive effects" on the South's economy, such as attracting foreign businesses that had been reluctant to come due to risks from the North.

"As a South Korean, I think it's great that South Korea, along with North Korea and the US... is able to advance international relations," Ms Choi said.

Mr Heo Jae-young, 21, developed an interest in ties with Pyongyang after the first summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North's Kim last year.

"The scene where President Moon shook hands with Chairman Kim and stepped over to the North's military demarcation line is memorable," he said.


Mr Kim Sang-hyun, a 20-year-old student, added: "I had a bad image of North Korea when I was young but that has recently changed."

He is hoping that Washington and Pyongyang will strike a deal in Hanoi on ending the Korean War.

"It wouldn't bring huge changes to our daily lives but actual threats will be removed, so wouldn't that make a difference?"


Mr Min Heung-ki, 33, said he wasn't particularly interested in the summit and viewed the meeting as "a sort of performance".

If the Korean War is declared officially declared over, it would mean more to an older generation who experienced the conflict first-hand, he said.

"For now, I think declaring an end to the war for the sake of it is meaningless," Mr Min added. "For it to be meaningful, there must be some practical actions that give confidence to the people."