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North Korea

Hopes must not be dashed after two Koreas take steps to peace

Pledge to end state of war made at historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in has to be acted on so 60,000 divided families may find comfort

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 4:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 4:09am

History unfolded before a global audience yesterday when Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to set foot on South Korean soil. A small step across the border could become a big step for all Koreans – and help make the world a safer place.

That is if Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in live up to their pledge at their historic summit to end the state of war between their countries and achieve their agreed goal of a nuclear-free peninsula.

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The orchestrated symbolism of Kim’s handshake with Moon set the summit apart from previous failed attempts to sign a proper peace treaty and halt the North’s nuclear programme.

It was followed by more symbolic political theatre that served the propaganda ends of both sides, with Kim inviting Moon to step over to the North side of the border in the demilitarised zone.

Kim’s warm and conciliatory demeanour contrasted with recent nuclear and missile brinkmanship that brought the peninsula close to dangerous conflict.

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It was reflected in his entry in the guest book at the summit venue Peace House, just south of the border: “A new history begins now – at the starting point of an era of peace,” and in his remark that “we should achieve good results by talking frankly”.

The summit caps a sequence of events that began with talks in January to include the North in the recent Winter Olympics in the South, followed by Kim’s surprise visit to Beijing in March and a pledge to denuclearise the peninsula in return for friendship, and a secret visit to Kim earlier this month by US President Donald Trump’s CIA chief and next secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Trump said a good relationship had been formed. Ultimately the summit that really counts – and the one Kim really wants – is the anticipated meeting between Trump and Kim in May or June.

It remains to be seen what the leader of the only country on the Korean peninsula that has developed nuclear weapons and missiles – to deter the perceived threat of a US invasion – wants in return for denuclearisation, or whether he really means it. After all, Pyongyang has a long record of breaking promises.

Early dividends from the Kim-Moon summit are important to setting a positive tone for a Kim-Trump meeting.

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To that end an inter-Korean joint liaison office will be set up in the North Korean city of Kaeseong to smooth relations between the two sides as well as process reunions of families divided since the war.

China, which has made clear its desire for both summits to go smoothly, yesterday expressed hope for a “journey of long-term stability on the peninsula”. Sixty-five years is a long time for two states to remain divided and their peoples sealed off from one another by a state of war.

The latest thaw may be the last hope for reunions between 60,000 families torn apart, for whom time is now running out.