How the Korean peace summit will play out: from a small step for Kim to grand gestures of reconciliation
North Korean leader’s short walk across the border will begin a day laden with symbolic gestures of unity and peace
When Kim Jong-un walks across the border into South Korea for Friday’s historic summit, the reclusive North Korean leader will be stepping into the full gaze of the world for a day laden with symbolic events.
While many of the important discussions will be held behind closed doors one of the most intimate moments of all – a private conversation with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in – will be conducted in full public view.
Further details of the first inter-Korean summit in a decade were announced by the authorities in Seoul on Thursday and included a number of symbolic acts of reconciliation.
The talks in the border truce village of Panmunjom will begin at 9.30am local time (12.30am GMT) when Kim strides across the Military Demarcation Line in the heart of the world’s most heavily guarded demilitarised zone and end with the two leaders signing an agreement, according to Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok.
This will be the first time a North Korean leader has crossed into the South since his grandfather Kim Il-sung during the Korean war.
Im explained that because there “were lots of decisions to be made” on the day – it is not clear how far apart the two sides are on key topics such as denuclearisation – there will be plenty of formal and symbolic events.
Actors playing the parts of Moon and Kim have already rehearsed the first face-to-face meeting between the pair to prepare for key ceremonial moments, such as the South Korean President’s handshake with his counterpart, Kim Eui-kyeom, a South Korean presidential spokesman, said.
The pair will then inspect a 300-soldier honour guard from the South Korean military in an official welcoming ceremony, mirroring previous summits in 2000 and 2007 when the South’s president was greeted by troops from the North.
Before the talks formally start in the newly renovated Peace House, Kim will sign a guestbook and the two leaders will pose for commemorative photos.
After the morning’s proceedings, Kim will return to the North for lunch – the two sides will eat separately – and then return to the DMZ.
A key symbolic moment will be a tree-planting ceremony by Moon and Kim, in which they will mix soil from each side’s highest mountain before each sprinkles the tree with water taken from the other side’s longest river.
“The particular tree involved dates back to 1953, when the Korean war armistice agreement was signed,” said Im, adding that it is a pine tree, a species beloved by the Korean people because it stands for peace and prosperity.
After planting the tree beside a path near the Military Demarcation Line, a stone plaque will also be erected by its side with an inscription reading “Peace and Prosperity Are Planted” along with the signatures of Moon and Kim.
Then the pair will take a walk together to a footbridge, where a signpost marking the demarcation line stands.
The bridge is being widened and extended, and painted light blue, the colour of both the United Nations flag and the unified Korean peninsula.
Their stroll to the bridge will be unaccompanied, “so what they will be talking about will be of interest to all of us,” said Moon’s spokesman.
After the afternoon meeting, the two leaders will sign an agreement declaring their common willingness to work towards denuclearisation and peace. Where and how it will be announced will depends on how much consensus they can reach, said Im.
Nevertheless, after the meeting, Moon will host a dinner for all guests, followed by a screening of a film called A New Spring Enjoyed Together to conclude the day.
It also emerged yesterday that Kim will bring a group of high-level officials with him, an unexpected move that prompted the South to make last-minute changes to its delegation, according to Im, who is chairman of the preparation committee for the meeting.
The North’s delegation will consist of nine senior figures, including Kim Yo-jong, the supreme leader’s younger sister and close adviser.
She first came to public prominence when she acted as a special envoy to break the ice with the South at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.
But whether Kim’s wife Ri Sol-ju – recently given the official title of first lady – will be present is still unknown.
The North’s other delegates will include the military chief of staff, armed forces minister and foreign minister.
Im said the inclusion of the military, diplomatic and security chiefs was “not expected on our side” and had prompted the South to add Jeong Kyeongdoo, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to its official seven-person delegation.
But when Kim and Moon sit down at the negotiating table each man will only have one other person accompanying them, Kim Eui-kyeom said.
The South Korean president’s spokesman also sounded an upbeat note about his boss’s frame of mind ahead of this historic occasion.
“When Moon is preparing for global summits, he usually feels nervous. But preparing for tomorrow’s summit, he was rather lighthearted,” he said.