Opinion: Hand in hand into no man’s land

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The two Korean brother states approach each other in a demonstrative and cordial manner. More important than the agreed measures, however, is that years of silence have come to an end, says DW’s Alexander Freund.

They come from completely different worlds: from the south the somewhat inconspicuous human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in, from the north the ruler Kim, the eerie enfant terrible of international politics. Moon the pragmatic bridge builder, Kim Jong Un the provocative rocket man.

A South Korean president who had to flee the North and fight for democracy all his life, meets a tyrant from the third generation who is worshipped like a god and who primarily has his dynasty’s survival in mind.

Despite all the differences, the ice between the two Koreans was quickly broken. The two greeted each other warmly in no man’s land. And, for the first time, a North Korean ruler entered South Korean soil. Hand in hand, they then spontaneously crossed the line of demarcation once again, which will no longer be the symbol of separation but of peace, Moon said.

And the unapproachable ruler from Pyongyang also deliberately relaxed, grinned broadly into the cameras from all over the world, patted the flower children and joked with his sister, who always shines at his side, about the prepared menu with delicacies from both Koreas.

End to the silence

This meeting marks a historic moment. Even the roughly 3,000 journalists from all over the world broke out in spontaneous applause when the two statesmen met in a surprisingly friendly manner.

The expectations of the summit, which is supposed to end the silence of recent years, are great – perhaps too great.

South Korea hopes for a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire agreement that is still in force, to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization – like the US –and to build lasting good relations between the two brother states. North Korea wants recognition as a nuclear power and  it also wants economic aid amid tightened sanctions, which are hitting the bitterly poor country hard.

Both sides agreed unanimously to refrain from mutual provocations, to meet regularly on both sides in the future and to resume rail travel between the two Koreas, for example. Numerous other confidence-building measures are to follow.

Of course, despite all the kindness, skepticism is still in order as the first two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007 had already raised great hope. At the time, too, the two rival states agreed to confidence-building measures. The families separated by the division of the country could see their relatives again, and the joint Kaesong Special Economic Center was founded.

But the initial euphoria vanished quickly, and when the North pushed ahead with its nuclear ambitions, discussions broke off.

More successful than predecessors

It is therefore all the more astonishing that this summit did not only come about, but that it took place in such a cordial atmosphere. After just one year in office, the social liberal Moon has achieved far more with his détente policy than his two conservative predecessors.

Kim, too, has achieved far more with his risky nuclear and missile program than his father and grandfather – the recognition of North Korea as a serious threat. Finally, Kim can negotiate at eye level with its arch enemy, the US. In a month or so, the meeting between Kim in power and US President Trump is to take place. Just a few weeks ago, that was also completely unimaginable.

The inner-Korean summit has put discussions back on track, easing the tensions of the last few months. President Trump would be well advised to continue on this path; direct discussions are certainly more helpful than irate Twitter posts. Step by step, all sides can try to rebuild lost trust and strive for a peaceful solution. If they manage to achieve that, Trump,too, would be more successful than all his predecessors.

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