The moment peace got one step closer in Korea

One small step: The moment Kim and Moon step from North Korea to South Korea. © Getty

Could two Koreas become one? The leaders of the North and the South met for a historic summit on Friday. Soon, the Korean War will officially be over. “Reunification” is on everyone’s lips.

In 2016, Kim Jong-un threatened to strike the residence of South Korean president Moon Jae-in with missiles.

On Friday, following months of negotiations and pressure from China and the United States, the hereditary dictator and the democratically-elected president shook hands. It was a surreal, historic day.

At around 11am local time, Kim Jong-un, wearing a black Mao suit, approached the border, known as the demilitarised zone. On the South Korean side, Moon was waiting, dressed in a suit. Both shook hands, smiling broadly.

Then, going off script, Kim invited Moon to step back over the border into the North. Moon became the first South Korean leader to enter the North since 1953.

Back in the South, Kim and Moon walked hand-in-hand to Panmunjom, the “truce village”, for talks.

In his first ever address to the world, Kim called the meeting a “starting point” for peace. Kim and Moon announced their “common goal” of denuclearisation in Korea.

The Korean War, which started in 1950, never officially ended. The two leaders announced that they would work towards peace with a formal end to the conflict set to be announced later this year.

But there was still time for more symbolism. During a break in talks, they planted a pine tree “as an expression of their wish for peace and prosperity” and poured water from a North Korean and a South Korean river over it.

Now the distant goal of reunification looks genuinely achievable.

The two nations are deeply bonded. They share a history and culture. Many Koreans still have familial ties to both sides of the peninsula.

But it would be a monumental undertaking. The wealth gap between the two Koreas is the largest of any two bordering countries on Earth. Some South Koreans would be reluctant to jeopardise their economic success. And North Korea’s bloodstained leadership are terrified of the repercussions if their power disappeared.

Then there are the simpler concerns: what would be the capital? Who would be the leader?

Is it really possible?

Friends reunited

Yes it is, some say. Korea can learn from the example of East and West Germany, which managed to come together after a split that appeared similarly permanent. As happened in Germany, the supporting powers of both countries have come to the negotiating table. Korea was united for centuries. It will be so again.

Others say the German comparison understates the task. The average South Korean is 40 times richer than the average North Korean. In Germany, the ratio was one to three. South Korea has fully embraced capitalism and Western culture; most North Koreans remain astonishingly ignorant of the wider world. Do not be too hopeful.

You Decide

  1. Could Korea reunify?
  2. Who should get the most credit for this historic meeting?

Activities

  1. Make a timeline of the recent North Korean crisis, and the steps that led to Friday’s meeting.
  2. Think of five concrete policies that could be taken to address the inequality between the northern and southern halves of a united Korea. Explain how they would help.

Some People Say...

“We are the same people and should live in unity.”

Kim Jong-un

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Moon Jae-in of South Korea met on Friday in a historic summit just over the border in South Korea. On a day rich with symbolism, the two leaders agreed to a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, with Kim pledging a “new history” in relations between the two countries. We know that both Koreas do not formally recognise the other, and that both governments have supported reunification for a long time.
What do we not know?
Just how real this all is. North Korea has broken many promises in the past, and it is highly unlikely that any foreigners will be allowed to inspect whether North Korea really is on the road to nuclear disarmament. We also do not know whether North Korea would agree to be absorbed into the South.

Word Watch

Moon Jae-in
Moon has been president of South Korea since 2017 after his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was impeached. The former lawyer is head of the Democratic Party of Korea, the South’s major centre-left political grouping.
Hereditary dictator
Kim Jong-un’s predecessor is his father, Kim Jong-il, who in turn succeeded his father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of modern North Korea.
Mao suit
Made famous by Mao Zedong, a Mao suit is a loose tunic buttoned to a high collar, and baggy trousers.
Never officially ended
The fighting was only ended by an armistice, a temporary cessation of hostilities, rather than a peace treaty.
Reluctant
This reluctance is particularly prominent among young people, who have much less of a connection with North Korea than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. A 2017 survey found that far more South Koreans in their 20s now oppose reunification by 71.2%. Across the population, support dropped to 57.8% from 69.3% in 2013.
Supporting powers
In this case, China and the US. In the case of Germany, the USSR supported the East, and the US supported the West.