In South Korea, Summit With North Korea Is Greeted With Hope — And Skepticism : Parallels News of the agreement to seek a peace treaty ending the Korean War and achieve nuclear disarmament has inspired some to dream of a nation reunited. Others warn that big problems are likely to remain.
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In South Korea, Summit With North Korea Is Greeted With Hope — And Skepticism

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In South Korea, Summit With North Korea Is Greeted With Hope — And Skepticism

In South Korea, Summit With North Korea Is Greeted With Hope — And Skepticism

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The world watched this week as the leaders of North and South Korea met near the border that separates them. North Korea's Kim Jong Un and South Korea's Moon Jae-in agreed to seek complete nuclear disarmament and to try to bring an official end to the Korean War. Arguably, nobody was watching as closely as South Koreans. NPR's Anthony Kuhn gauges the reaction of people in Seoul to this historic summit.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: At noon on Friday, travelers at Seoul's main train station gathered around television screens beaming images of two beaming Korean leaders. Twenty-nine-year-old railway employee Lim Yea-won was struck by the sight of the two men smiling and shaking hands at the border.

LIM YEA-WON: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "I felt almost emotional because North Korea is so close," she says, "and yet all this time we've been unable to meet." It's the first time a North Korean leader has ever set foot in the south. Lim says her family has ties to the north.

LIM: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "My grandfather's hometown is in North Korea," she says, "and that he's still alive and watching is an emotional fact for me." Thirty-two-year-old Kweon Byeong-jin distributes goods for department stores. He says last year he was concerned that war would break out on the Korean Peninsula.

KWEON BYEONG-JIN: (Through interpreter) I think it's really fascinating that, you know, just a couple of months ago we were almost at each other's throats, but now we can watch this in real time.

KUHN: He says he's optimistic he'll live long enough to see the nation unified. Other South Koreans who follow politics in the north very closely are not so optimistic. Park Hyeong-jung is a researcher at the government-funded Korea Institute of National Unification. He doubts that despite today's pledge Kim Jong Un will completely abandon his nuclear arsenal.

PARK HYEONG-JUNG: (Through interpreter) Nuclear weapons may solve the problem of securing the state, but they do not help with the security of the regime. Even if they keep their nuclear weapons, its security is not guaranteed.

KUHN: In other words, Park says, Kim will keep his nukes simply to demonstrate to his own people that he is the ruler of a nuclear state and therefore he commands the respect of the U.S. and South Korea. Even more pessimistic are people who have actually lived under Kim rule, people like Kang Cheol-hwan. Kang is executive director of the North Korea Strategy Center. He escaped from North Korea in 1992. He believes the summit is just another North Korean trick to buy itself more time.

KANG CHEOL-HWAN: (Through interpreter) Until now, North Korea has lied, and the lies have worked on people who want to believe North Korea intends to give up its nuclear weapons. But I do not think that's the truth.

KUHN: South Koreans are generally aware that today's summit is just the beginning and a prelude to a meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, which is expected in the next month or so. Park Hyeong-jung's main concern is that President Trump is in a hurry to get a deal even if it's a bad one for Seoul. Park's nightmare scenario goes like this.

PARK: (Through interpreter) North Korea promises not to develop missiles that can reach the U.S. In return, the U.S. allows North Korea to keep its nuclear capabilities and reduces U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.

KUHN: Whatever the outcome of a U.S.-North Korean summit, Park expects both sides to spin it hard as a success. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLY MASON'S "RESTLESS FUGITIVE")

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