Seoul: South Koreans watched the latest meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Sunday with a mixture of hope and skepticism, wondering whether the impromptu summit will be enough to break an impasse in nuclear negotiations and inter-Korean dialogue.
Trump and Kim’s meeting at the inter-Korean border, where an armistice was signed 66 years ago to stop the fighting of a war that killed or injured millions, was their third overall and first since the collapse of their high-stakes nuclear summit in February in Hanoi, Vietnam, over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament.
Some South Koreans said Sunday’s meeting will help resolve a months-long deadlock in nuclear negotiations following the breakdown in Hanoi and revive a positive atmosphere for peace.
Others, however, said it was yet another summit that was all style and no substance. They also raised concerns over what they saw as South Korea’s declining voice in international efforts to deal with the North.
Since the Hanoi summit, North Korea has significantly slowed down dialogue and engagement with South Korea, while demanding that Seoul break away from Washington and resume inter-Korean economic projects held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
Sunday’s meeting between Trump and Kim at the border village of Panmunjom came days after the North vowed to ‘never go through’ South Korea again when dealing with the United States.
Min Jung-won, a 26-year-old graduate student in Seoul, expressed hope that the Trump-Kim meeting would help thaw bilateral relations between the Koreas.
“I hope this meeting serves as an opportunity for the Koreas to revive economic cooperation and move a step forward toward the reunification of the Koreas,” said Min, who also called for the Koreas and the United States to formally declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
But Kim Dae-won, a 40-year-old office worker in Suwon, said the Trump-Kim meeting was a made-for-TV spectacle that failed to address fundamental differences between Washington and Pyongyang that were exposed in Hanoi.
He said that the US and North Korean flags raised at the South Korean side of the border village symbolized how Seoul got sidelined in the process to resolve the nuclear standoff, despite its pivotal role in brokering the first summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un last June in Singapore.
“(South Korean President) Moon Jae-in has insisted on being in the driver’s seat in the process, but it now seems he only lent out his car for Trump and Kim Jong Un,” Kim Dae-won said.
“With Kim Jong Un, it’s clear a tweet would work much better than a hotline,” he said, referring to a hotline between the Korean leaders that was established last year during a flurry of engagement but has so far never been used, according to South Korean presidential officials.
Choi Yong-chul, a 65-year-old business owner in Seoul, said Trump and Moon, who accompanied Trump to the border but did not participate in the meeting with Kim, were both trying to serve their domestic political interests, rather than pursuing substantial progress in nuclear negotiations.
Trump is now entering his re-election campaign, while Moon faces critical parliamentary elections next year.
“I think (the meeting) was a one-time event for Trump’s re-election,” Choi said.
Trump departed on Air Force One just before 1000 GMT (7pm local time) en route to Washington.