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Home / World / Fear and hope in South Korea on the eve of the summit with Kim Jong-un

Fear and hope in South Korea on the eve of the summit with Kim Jong-un



He ended weeks of diplomacy with Saturday's announcement of ending nuclear and long-range missile testing and decommissioning a nuclear test facility, saying he would now focus on rebuilding the economy. And he said earlier US and South Korean ambassadors that his country was ready to give up nuclear weapons if it had the right incentives.

Choi Hae-jong, 55, who runs a gas station in the provincial town of Ulsan, said he believed that Kim Jong-un would indeed take away his nuclear weapons if he received the help and security guarantees he needed to rebuild the city Economy needed.

"He knows that he can not feed his people with nuclear weapons and tanks." Choi said:

With the meeting on Friday, Mr. Kim will be the first North Korean leader to cross the Inner Korean border and settle with Mr. Moon on the South Korean side of Panmunjom, a "ceasefire" on the border. President Trump plans to meet Mr. Moon weeks later at a time to be determined

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President Moon Jae-in from South Korea, far right, discusses the upcoming summit with advisers on Monday. "We are at a crossroads where it is decided whether denuclearization and lasting peace can be achieved through peaceful means, not military ones," said Mr Moon.

Credit
Yonhap / EPA, via Shutterstock

The tide of diplomacy has led the South Koreans to guess Mr. Kim's intentions and to discuss the wisdom of negotiating with him – and wondering what lies ahead for the future of the Korean Peninsula For generations, it was a matter of faith among the South Koreans that they should eventually reconcile and unite with the North. But after seven decades of division, the capitalist south and the totalitarian north are so far apart that the longing for reunification is not what it used to be, especially among the young South Koreans.

"Unlike in the sixties and older, many still felt North Korea as an" enemy "or" stranger "in their 20s," said a study published last week by Kim Ji-yoon, Kim Kil-dong, and Kang Chung -ku for the Asian Institute for Political Studies in Seoul. "Many in their 20s were indifferent to the union and did not consider it an urgent matter."

Mr. Kim's recent behavior has led to paradoxical results in opinion polls. A survey last month showed that more than 81 percent of South Koreans supported a summit meeting with Mr. Kim. But another survey this month showed that more than 70 percent doubted that Mr. Kim would give up his most dangerous weapons.

[Read our profile of Kim Jong-un, a moody young man with a nuclear arsenal.]

"When it comes to North Korea, there is always the nagging feeling that they could stab us in the back," said Choi Hae-pyeong, 55, a businessman south of Seoul.

In 1991 the two Koreas signed a non-aggression agreement. In 1992, they jointly vowed not to seek nuclear weapons. After an inter-Korean summit in 2000, South Korea sent billions of aid and investment, but the North continued to develop a nuclear arsenal, leading to a conservative backlash in the South.

In fact, many older conservatives fear that North Korea has developed its nuclear weapons to drive American troops from the south and unite the peninsula under its rule. Others see the North's nuclear program rooted in the uncertainty of the Kim Dynasty following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, which made North Korea more vulnerable and isolated in its stalemate with the United States. And a peace agreement could be a way out of this predicament.

"The North Korean nuclear and missile problem is a by-product of hostile relations between the United States and North Korea," said Lim Dong-won, a former reunification secretary from South Korea. "It can only be solved in the context of ending the hostility of the Cold War and the creation of peace in the peninsula, by a comprehensive end to the Korean War and normalization of relations."

Progressive South Koreans like Mr. Moon argue that only a realistic and peaceful way to eliminate the nuclear weapons of the North is to convince the government that it can survive without them. While the Conservatives favor Washington's alliance, progressives see their country as "in the driver's seat" in overcoming the precarious situation on the peninsula.

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A poster in Seoul that depicts a united Korea and expresses hope for successful talks. Skeptical South Koreans say they've seen it before: a member of the Kim dynasty is rewarded for coming to the negotiating table, spitting the conversations, and the North returning to its old ways.

Credit
Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

"We are at a crossroads where it is decided whether denuclearization and lasting peace are possible through peaceful means, not military ones," Mr Moon said Monday.

But Mr. Moon acknowledged that the nuclear crisis could ultimately only be resolved between North Korea and the US. The best he could do was to be a "leader" to help Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump reach a "comprehensive" agreement to act as a peace treaty for North's nuclear weapons for Washington security guarantees, formally the 1950s -53 end Korean War.

Some Conservatives who have previously been burned remain deeply skeptical about this approach.

"The current government reversed the table, claiming to be a 'driver' just as the North began to feel the pain of sanctions," said Lee Bong-bok, a well-known right-wing expert on North Korea, to the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo.

Trump has threatened to leave his scheduled meeting with Mr. Kim if he refuses to dismantle nuclear weapons. If that happens, the South Koreans fear that they will demand military action in Washington, and the threat of war in Korea may be greater than ever.

Last year, the South Koreans became angry as they watched Mr. Trump threatening to "completely destroy" North Korea. Mr. Kim, in turn, called him a senile "dotard." But many now hope that Mr. Kim's daring style and Mr. Trump's unpredictability together will provide the opportunity to break the decade-long nuclear stalemate in Korea.

Mr. Trump is the first American leader to agree to a North Korean leader.

"When I said that I supported President Trump's election because it would be a great opportunity for us, people called me crazy," said Mr. Lim, who leads a panel of senior non-governmental advisors to Mr. Moon. "No matter what people say about him, here is an American leader who wants to reverse the status quo."

Mr. Kim herself has overturned some of the conventional wisdom about North Korea.

His promise to refrain from nuclear and missile testing is the kind of concession Washington has had to haggle from the north in the past – and only in the past – with promises of aid. Mr. Kim announced this on Saturday without any conditions.

Park Sang-min, 39, a marketing official in Seoul, said he sees "self-reliance and negotiation zeal" in the North Korean leader.

"He has completed his nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, so the Americans would have no choice but to take him seriously and pay the prices he wanted," he said.

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