It was an expectedly high-level hospitality that welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in who visited Pyongyang on Monday morning. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tightly embraced President Moon at the Sunan International Airport of the capital. Twenty-one gun salutes were fired at the welcoming ceremony carried out by the honor guard of the Korean People's Army. All the way from the airport to the streets, a large crowd of North Korean people were lined up waving the North Korea Flag and the Korean Unification Flag. The two Koreas’ leaders held a car parade event in a convertible car in response to the welcome paid by the people on their way to the accommodation. In the afternoon, they held a first round of talks along with a performance show and a welcoming dinner, creating the mood for mutual trust.
It is the third visit to Pyongyang paid by a South Korean president, following the previous two occasions by late former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, which all were warmly welcomed by the North. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said, “We have paid the greatest care and effort, albeit unsophisticated.” Nevertheless, concerned voices have been raised on this round of trip to the North, not met with much expectation and hope, which is somewhat different from a heightened level of excitement and thrill around the first-ever visit in 2000, and the second visit by land in 2007. It is mainly because of frustrations and future uncertainties due to the stalled, once smooth, U.S.-North Korea negotiations on denuclearization. President Moon also commented in the first conversation with Kim that he was thrilled at the summit while a great sense of responsibility was on their shoulders.
The South Korean president said before he departed from Seoul that if his visit sparks the resumption of the U.S.-North Korea talks, it would make the occasion all the more meaningful. Fortunately, the dialogue channel between Pyongyang and Washington has reopened thanks to South Korean envoys’ recent trip to the North early this month. However, there has not yet been some effort being observed to materialize U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s future visit to the North, which once was canceled. It necessarily comes down to Moon’s efforts to persuade Kim, who wants a declaration of end of war to come first, to promise denuclearization with a detailed plan. With it being preconditioned, some direction can be provided to the South Korean leader who will attend the upcoming South Korea-U.S. summit, which can lead to a second U.S.-North Korea summit, and a trilateral talk among Washington, Seoul, and Pyongyang.
The inter-Korean leaders stand to have another round of talks on Wednesday, the results of which are hoped by the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae to provide a basis for a joint press conference. It is highly likely that an inter-Korean agreement or a joint announcement will be made to confirm Kim’s determination to denuclearize, even if the two leaders do not hold a joint press conference. All eyes are not only on content itself but on the way an announcement is made – whether by his voice, message, or a type of a document, showing the implications that the results have on the direction of the Korean Peninsula.
It is expected that a wide range of agreements will be made between the two Koreas to implement the April 27 declaration at Panmunjom, regarding various types of exchange and cooperative activities and measures to mitigate military tension. Some even hope to see any word given by Kim to make a visit to Seoul. With that being said, whatever is promised during the talks can only remain empty words until the denuclearization of the North is realized. Such concern and lack of certainty may be reflected in Cheong Wa Dae’s comments regarding economic cooperation that the two Koreas would likely reach agreement on the issue not during this visit, but at some point in the future.
If Kim Jong Un ever visits Seoul in return, the occasion will be recorded as a symbolic milestone for the two Koreas to open up the era of sincere reconciliation and cooperation. Kim would not be as welcomed as Moon was in Pyongyang with a massive group of citizens greeting on the streets. Protesters on both sides would take to the streets. Nevertheless, if Kim shows sincerity in terms of denuclearization and puts his words into action, the mood could be much more welcoming in Seoul. All is about which decision Kim will make.