SEOUL(AFP, REUTERS) - South Koreans erupted in applause Tuesday (June 12) as Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un met for what local media billed as the "talks of the century".
As the historic first meeting between a sitting US president and North Korean leader began in Singapore, images of Trump and Kim exchanging handshakes and warm words drew jubilant reactions in Seoul and hopes for a new beginning with Pyongyang.
“I was at work and secretly watching the feed, but I don’t think I was alone watching it,” said Hahm Ha Neul, a 29-year-old working for a state-run company.
“We have a group chat (at work) and we tell each other how we want dialogue with North Korea to go well and how it’d be nice to go up there someday to eat naengmyeon,” she said, referring to North Korean-style cold noodles.
Cha Min Song, a hospital nurse working in Suwon, south of Seoul, said she and her co-workers all stopped working briefly to watch
Kim and Trump shake hands.
“Today’s event was even more dramatic because it was cancelled briefly. I wasn’t really thinking of it early this morning, but I found myself searching for news as it got closer to 10 am,” she said. The talks began at 9am Singapore time, which is an hour behind Seoul.
Morning newspapers splashed wide front-page headlines about what they call a "fateful day", a "meeting of the century" and a "first step toward peace", reported Yonhap news agency. Internet portal sites were also full of stories about the summit.
The English-language Korea Times welcomed the meeting as a step towards ending tensions on the Korean peninsula, which has been divided between the communist North and democratic South for nearly 70 years.
Since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has grown into one of the most prosperous countries in Asia, while the isolationist North has suffered a stagnant economy and alarmed its neighbours with its increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons programme.
"The two leaders are certainly under great pressure to make the talks of the century a success," the editorial said.
"We hope today's summit will make a breakthrough to open a new era of peace and prosperity."
Elsewhere, scores of people were glued to TV screens at the Seoul railway station, cheering and clapping in response to Trump and Kim's cordial greetings.
Jung A Im, a university student, said she was moved while watching the landmark meeting.
"Looking at the two leaders shaking hands, I thought... 'I am living in a historical moment'," she told AFP.
Many others watched live footage of the summit on their phones.
"A great shift in world history is in the making," one Internet user said in a comment response to a news story.
Ordinary citizens expressed surprise that the meeting, unthinkable even just six months ago, did really take place.
"I never imagined I would be able to see Chairman Kim and President Trump being in the same place," a 31-year-old office worker was quoted by Yonhap as saying while watching TV.
"They're not my presidents, but I got emotional and even felt proud," another Internet user identified by ID rand*** said. "I don't want to hate Kim Jong Un, and I'm even grateful to Trump. Please give us peace and economic exchanges."
Before the North launched a charm offensive with Mr Kim's New Year's Day address, the communist nation spent many years accelerating its nuclear and long-range missile programmes, conducting a number of test launches and explosions that drove the situation to the brink of war.
The meeting was briefly thrown into doubt last month after a war of words between the two sides culminated in Trump cancelling the planned meeting - only to put it back on the cards after a conciliatory response from Pyongyang.
Civic groups also expressed hope for peace, reported Yonhap.
"This is the starting point for the two countries, which have been enemies for the past 70 years, to begin reconciliation," said Park Jung Eun, secretary general of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, one of the leading civic groups in South Korea.
"This will be a historic day leading to the end of the Korean War," she said.
Park said that even if the meeting doesn't produce big outcomes, it will still be meaningful as a good starting point for reconciliation.
Cho Sung Hoon, an official of the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, said he was pleased to see the meeting taking place after it was cancelled last month.
"There will be differences in position on denuclearisation between the two leaders, and I don't think results will come quickly," Cho said. "I hope this will serve as a starting point for the two countries to restore trust and declare an end to the war and move towards a peace treaty."
The conservative civic group Citizens United for Better Society stressed the importance of realising the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) of the communist nation. "What's important is whether the North will commit to CVID," said Lee Ok Nam, an official of the group.
Conservatives also expressed scepticism about whether the North would ever give up its nuclear weapons. They cited earlier attempts to improve relations that later foundered.
"I hope for genuine peace, but I don't beg North Korea for peace," an Internet user identified by ID ic20**** said in a comment on a news story. "Kim Jong Un's agreement to meet Trump means he's having a hard time (from sanctions). But we're giving him a chance to survive again after we did so with (Kim's father) Kim Jong Il."