Kim and Moon visit sacred Mount Paektu near China border as historic summit wraps up
North Korea claims that Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was born there and dubs it the ‘sacred mountain of the revolution’
South Korean President Moon Jae-in cleared a top item off his bucket list on Thursday: climbing Mount Paektu in North Korea with its leader Kim Jong-un
After the two leaders pledged new steps aimed at salvaging nuclear talks on Wednesday, Moon and Kim decided to use the final day of their three-day summit to go up the symbolic mountain on the Chinese border together.
Moon is known for his love of mountain climbing and has trekked in the Himalayas at least twice. The president has long stated that he would love to one day visit Mount Paektu, which is also sometimes spelled Baekdu.
“I have a dream that I have not been able to fulfil for a long time, which is trekking Mount Paektu and the Kaema Plateau,” Moon said during a banquet after his first summit with Kim in April, which took place at the demilitarised zone separating the two neighbours.
“I believe Chairman Kim will make that dream come true for sure.”
Photos showed the two leaders holding hands as their wives looked on.
The show of unity came after the North Korean leader on Wednesday agreed to close the Tongchang-ri missile-testing site in the presence of international observers, a move the US welcomed by saying it was ready for immediate talks aimed at denuclearising the North by January 2021.
That was followed by a historic speech by Moon to the North Korean people at a packed May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, where the South Korean leader announced the deal with Kim.
Moon was given a standing ovation by tens of thousands of North Koreans at the stadium, which holds 150,000 people.
In another significant gesture, North Korean state-run media reported that Kim agreed with Moon to visit Seoul “in the near future”, while releasing the full text of the joint declaration signed by the leaders.
On Thursday morning, Kim and Moon flew separately to Samjiyon airport near Mount Paektu, where they met up and drove to the mountain. The region is a burgeoning tourist hub.
While Mount Paektu is revered by both peoples – it is mentioned in South Korea’s national anthem – North Korea claims that Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, was born there and dubs it the “sacred mountain of the revolution”.
After visiting the mountain, Moon is scheduled to return to Seoul, flying directly to Seongnam Air Base from Samjiyon, wrapping up his three-day visit.
However, there was temporary confusion among some journalists who wondered if Moon’s visit had been extended a day.
A stone marker commemorating Moon’s visit to Pyongyang had the wrong dates carved on it.
The stone was unveiled during a tree-planting ceremony attended by Moon and senior North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae on Wednesday.
The carving saying “Commemorating Visit to Pyongyang. September 18-21. South Korean President Moon Jae-in”.
Moon’s office said North Korean workers made a mistake.
Lee Jeong-ho, Associated Press, Kyodo, Agence France-Presse