South Koreans tune in to summit, even from behind bars

Pedestrians were glued to the screen as footage of a joint press conference between South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was shown in Seoul yesterday.
Pedestrians were glued to the screen as footage of a joint press conference between South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was shown in Seoul yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • As the leaders of North and South Korea clasped hands over the Military Demarcation Line, South Koreans were glued to the screen to watch history being made.

The summit, the first in more than a decade between two countries technically still at war, received wall-to-wall coverage on nearly every television channel.

Even convicts across the nation saw their usual diet of pre-edited TV interrupted for "emergency live programming" of the landmark handshake between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In, the South Korean Justice Ministry said.

Ms Lee Song Eun, an elementary school teacher in Seoul, usually ensures her classroom TV is turned off, but made an exception.

"The kids were working on their assignments and suddenly broke out into 'Ah!' and 'Oh!' when Kim Jong Un appeared," she said.

Worker Kim Eun Jin, 31, said her office gathered around the TV to watch the summit pageantry. "My colleague was so touched, he cried."

The summit dominated online as well, with "Kim Jong Un" being the most searched term on South Korea's largest portal Naver. Phrases like "Pyongyang naengmyeon" - a North Korean cold noodle dish - and "Military Demarcation Line" were trending on South Korean Twitter.

In contrast, on the other side of the border, North Korean state TV showed a test card all morning, with the first news bulletin in the afternoon merely reading out a dispatch from the official KCNA news agency saying leader Kim had set off for Panmunjom to meet Mr Moon.

Pyongyang naengmyeon - already a popular summer delicacy in the South - was selling like hotcakes at lunch time. Thousands of South Koreans posted photos of the cold buckwheat noodle they slurped down on Instagram with hashtags including #summit and #peacenaengmyeon.

But not all was euphoria, with some protesters burning a North Korean flag near a checkpoint leading to the Demilitarised Zone where the summit was taking place.

One commenter on Naver said the summit was positive, "but we cannot have blind faith", blaming Mr Kim for the assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia last year.

"We believed them during the 2000 summit and were hit in the head. We have to be open to all possibilities. We have to be wary because he is the guy who killed his brother."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'South Koreans tune in to summit, even from behind bars'. Print Edition | Subscribe