North and South Korean Leaders Historic Summit: Think Tanks are Cautiously Optimistic 

The historic summit between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in could mean stability for the region and the official end of the Korean War.

At a historic summit meeting that took place today Friday, April 27, 2018, for the first time, a North Korean leader visited South Korea and met with its leader.  The two leaders met and promised to remove from all nuclear arsenals from the divided Korean Peninsula, to negotiate a real peace treaty between the two nations and possibly eventually even allow for the reunification of families who have been torn apart following the Korean War.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in shake hands in the Peace House- April 27, 2018. Photo courtesy of Cheongwadae / Blue House.

“South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” read a statement signed by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

The two leaders also agreed to continue discussions with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, a brutal war which devastated the peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

The Scope Weekly turned to scholars and experts on the topic to get their informed take on the meeting, and the reactions ranged from elated to cautionary.

Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy

Jean H. Lee, Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy:

“This was a powerful show of unity between the two Korean leaders after more than a decade of animosity. We’ll have to wait to see what comes out of their summit later in the day — particularly how far they go in discussing denuclearization — to determine whether it was all show or the start to a real path toward peace.

Regardless, the dramatic opening moments inside the DMZ provided images and emotional impact that will reap benefits for both Kim and Moon on both sides of the DMZ.

For Kim, this was his first live appearance on the international stage and a significant milestone moment for him in his goal of showing that he can be an international statesman like other world leaders — and is not just a young man who inherited power of an impoverished country while he was in his mid-20s. Agreeing to allow live coverage of those first moments, to the glare of TV cameras, smartphones and a livestream that sent him into homes, schools, and offices around the world, was a way of showing that he’s comfortable in the international limelight, unlike his reclusive father, Kim Jong Il. He also wanted to show that he can act off the cuff — a sign of flexibility and charisma — and we immediately saw him show his sense of spontaneity by grabbing President Moon and having him cross from north to south over the Demarcation Line hand in hand.

These images will play well back in Pyongyang by showing him as a leader who can play a driving role in changing the tenor of relations on the Korean Peninsula. Remember that he was the one offered an olive branch to South Korea on New Year’s Day, bringing us to this point today.

Koh Gen Do Cosmetics

And for President Moon, these images will help sway South Korean sentiments toward reconciliation with North Korea. For more than a decade, South Koreans have been cut off from North Korea due to tensions, and increasingly feel indifferent toward the North Koreans. Young South Koreans no longer feel a sense of kinship with North Koreans, whose lives seem to differ from theirs economically as well as culturally and politically. But seeing Kim Jong Un live, chatting easily with their president, will no doubt have been a jolt to South Koreans and remind them that the North Koreans are the same people in many ways, in language and shared history if not their political or economic structure.

For us, this summit is a sterling opportunity to get to know Kim Jong Un. Moon and his delegation will glean valuable information about Kim, how he operates and what he wants from this summit, and that will pave the way for an anticipated summit with President Donald Trump.”

Kissinger Institute

Abraham Denmark, Director of the Asia Program and senior fellow with the Kissinger Institute:

“A remarkable, historical moment that offered a brief glimpse of what may be.

Kim clearly sought to show himself as warm, open, and respectful. He referred to Moon as ‘President,’ and his generals saluted Moon when they were introduced. The South Koreans have also shown warmth and respect, but no salutes were offered and Moon has referred to Kim by his name only.

Everything is pointing toward a joint statement of ambition, vision, and hope. The key questions now are what will be the specifics in the statement. Will Kim commit to denuclearization? Will North and South set a course to a peace treaty and improved relations? And most fundamentally, how do we translate vision into action? Beneath the warm images and friendly words, there is still no trust and no clear way ahead.

This summit sets a high bar for Kim’s meeting with President Trump. Our Korean allies have high hopes, and expectations for a positive summit will be very high. And the fundamental question remains: whatever deal is struck, how do we implement and verify that North Korea is holding up its end?

We must remember: North Korea is still North Korea. Kim is still the same person he was when he purged potential rivals, imprisoned thousands of his people, and had his relatives killed. This was a hopeful moment, but extreme caution is well warranted.”

Wilson Center

Wilson Center scholar, Kevin Gray:

“The fact that this is the third inter-Korean summit means that we should not perhaps get carried away with the use of terms such as ‘historic.’

But when we consider that just a few months ago many were genuinely concerned that war might break out in Korea, the fact that this summit has taken place at all is a remarkable achievement.

Much of this is of course due to Moon Jae-In’s extraordinary efforts and as well as his skills in diplomacy.  But we should also note that North Korea’s charm offensive since the beginning of the year has been unprecedented, and in that respect alone, we may be entering new unchartered waters rather than simply repeat history.

It should be noted that those who are expecting some grand substantive announcement at the end of the summit that resolves many of the issues surrounding the peninsula are likely to be disappointed. Economic issues are largely off the table, in part due to international sanctions.

The nuclear issue is not something that can be resolved between the two Koreas, and in that sense, this summit is a form of preparation for a possible Kim-Trump summit.

This should not, however, detract from the significance of the meeting. As a divided nation, Koreans have a much larger stake in this summit than simply the resolution of the security issue. All the symbolism surrounding today’s meeting between Kim with Moon is that these are tentative steps towards reconciliation, and this is likely to be the lens through which the majority of Koreans both North and South have viewed the summit.”


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