Explainer: What you need to know about the North-South Korea Summit
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Explainer: What you need to know about the North-South Korea Summit

ON Friday morning, Kim Jong Un will become the first North Korean leader to step over the border into the South since the Korean War broke out in 1950.

Not only that, it will be the first summit between the leaders of these two battling nations in over a decade. On the table for discussion are topics that have been at the forefront of international tension for months, years, even decades.

It promises to be a momentous occasion on many levels, so to get up to speed on what could be the curtain-raiser to a new North Korea, here’s a handy explainer of tomorrow’s Inter-Korea Summit.

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What’s happening?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will greet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border where the latter will cross a military demarcation line to enter the South for the first summit between the two sides in more than a decade.

South Korean honour guards will then escort the leaders to a welcome ceremony at a plaza in Panmunjom, or “truce village” where the summit is to be held.

Official dialogue between Kim and Moon will begin at 10.30 am local time at the Peace House in Panmunjom, an hour after Kim is scheduled the cross the border at 9.30 am. Kim will be accompanied by nine officials, Moon’s delegation is comprised of seven officials, including the ministers for defence, foreign affairs and unification.

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A general view shows the interior of the Peace House, the venue for the inter-Korean summit, at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 25, 2018. Source: Yonhap via Reuters

Why so tense?  

North and South Korea are technically still at war. The Korean War of the 50’s concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Since then, although major conflict has been avoided, there have been occasional outbreaks of violence, most recently in 2010 when 50 people were killed in an attack on a South Korean navy ship and several nearby islands.

Relations between the two have remained frosty and Pyongyang’s ever increasing nuclear arsenal and threats have strained relations further. The complete lack of contact between the two leaders is testament to the contempt felt on both sides.

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People wear masks of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un during a pro-unification rally ahead of the upcoming summit between North and South Korea in Seoul, South Korea April 25, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

Why is it so important?

This is a major sign that North Korea is lowering its defences and opening up to the rest of the world for the first time in decades. After months of escalating rhetoric fired between Kim and US President Donald Trump, which left the world questioning if we may be on the brink of nuclear war, the offer of an olive branch is a welcome gesture.

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It will also set the stage for the next move in Korea’s fledgling attempt at diplomacy. A meeting between Kim and Trump is slated for June, the first time a leader of the regime will have met a sitting US president. The success of Friday’s summit will likely dictate the atmosphere and possibly the outcome of this next step.

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Students hold posters with pictures of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un during a pro-unification rally ahead of the upcoming summit between North and South Korea in Seoul, South Korea April 26, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

What will be discussed?

Its significance also lies in what will be discussed.

“This summit will focus more on denuclearisation and securing of permanent peace than anything else,” the South’s presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said on Thursday.

“I feel North Korea is sending their key military officials to the summit as they too, believe denuclearisation and peace are important.”

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After months of sabre-rattling from Kim, during which he repeatedly threatened to attack the US, the Supreme Leader has pledged to dismantle the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and halt all further missile and nuclear tests.

While this is a long way from agreeing to denuclearisation, a clearer picture of Pyongyang’s expectations and conditions will be formed over the day.

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People hold Korean Unification Flags during a pro-unification rally ahead of the upcoming summit between North and South Korea in Seoul, South Korea April 26, 2018. The signs read, “Welcome inter-Korean summit” (L) and “Peaceful spring for our people” (R). Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

Likely outcomes?

Concrete results are unlikely to come from just one day of discussions. This is more a jumping off block for what could be months, possibly years, of negotiations.

The meet is, however, of huge symbolic importance on a peninsula that has been bitterly divided for so long.

This show of unity will be front and centre when Kim and Moon plant a tree for “peace and prosperity” on the demarcation line and walk together through the truce village on the border.

But each is more likely to walk away with good intentions and a vague roadmap for the future than any sustainable policies.

Additional reporting by Reuters.