A handshake across the world’s most heavily militarised border. A lengthy one-to-one conversation on a bridge, beyond the range of microphones, without aides. A fancy dinner banquet at the same table. Inveterate enemies across a divided peninsula calling for peace after decades of armistice.
April 27 saw a day of unprecedented events- a day that could possibly rewrite history. For the first time since the Korean War ended with a temporary-made-permanent solution in 1953, a North Korean leader has crossed the bloodstained border to set foot on South Korean soil, at which the leaders of neither side have ever met.
“Now you are here in the South, and I wonder when I can cross over to the North,” South Korean president Mr. Moon Jae-In said when North Korean president Mr. Kim Jong-Un crossed the border and they shook hands.
“Why don’t you now?” Mr. Kim said.
In an unscripted event, he took Mr. Moon’s hand and guided him over to the Northern side over a concrete slab that marks the border, where they shook hands again, before returning to the South.
Friday’s summit meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea painted pictures of hope of an eventual nuclear disarmament in the Korean Peninsula and a peace treaty after a day of carefully choreographed and orchestrated events.
The day was filled with the classics of public diplomacy- broad smiles, long handshakes, even a joke about North Korean missile tests waking the South Korean president early in the morning. There was the traditional pomp and pageantry of a South Korean honor guard, but the soldiers wore 19th-century imperial costumes, recalling a time before the peninsula was divided by ideology and war.
Even the clothing the two leaders wore conveyed a message. Mr. Moon was dressed in a dark business suit, paired with a light blue tie that emphasised the hue used in the Korean Unification Flag, which athletes use when competing under one nation at international sporting events.
Mr. Kim wore an austere black Mao-style suit, a message to his citizens that despite being in enemy territory he was still committed to the ideals — and dress — of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, who ordered the 1950 invasion of the South that started the Korean War.
What would have been thought to be a meeting of intense atmosphere had grown more intimate throughout the day and developed a convivial, and at times, jocular tone when Mr. Kim showed surprising honesty about the differences in conditions between the two nations in the morning session before lunch.
When they returned after breaking off to their respective sides for lunch, the two leaders gathered again to plant a commemorative 65-year-old pine tree “as an expression of their wish for peace and prosperity.”
The tree, which dates back to the end of the Korean War, will be planted with a mix of soil transplanted from South Korea’s Mount Hallasan and from Mount Baekdu, an active volcano on the North Korea-China border. (Side fact: The two mountains are the highest in each country.)
It was also watered with water from the two nations- Mr. Kim poured water from the South’s Han River while Mr Moon poured water from the North’s Daedong River.
Ensuing this, the pair then took a walk across a newly blue paint-coated bridge where they sat at its end and engaged in what appeared to be deep conversation in full view of journalists’ cameras, but beyond the range of microphones and their aides.
Their face-to-face conversation that many would have thought impossible only a few months ago lasted for about 30 minutes.
The world could only observe and try to decipher the content of their conversation from their gestures and facial expressions. Mr. Moon appeared to do most of the talking, with Mr. Kim’s serious mien breaking into quick smiles here and there.
However, there were still glimpses of the absolute authority and supremacy he wields at home too. For instance, the 34-year-old scion of the world’s only communist dynasty drove to lunch in a Mercedes limousine surrounded by 12 running bodyguards, employing the military strategy of all-round defence.
The day was concluded with a lavish dinner banquet, joined by both Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon’s wives, Ri Sol-Ju and Kim Jung-Sook respectively. The menu featured dishes that held symbolic meaning to both Mr. Kim and the Korean culture.
Overall, it was established from the meeting that both sides hoped for peace.
In of his opening statements in the morning session, Mr. Kim mentioned: “As I walked over here, I thought ‘why was it so difficult to get here?’ The separating line wasn’t even that high to cross. It was too easy to walk over that line and it took us 11 years to get here.”
He later added: “I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation as well as to work shoulder to shoulder with you to tackle the obstacles between us,” Mr. Kim said. “I came with the confidence that a brighter future awaits us.”
“It is the two of us who deal with the matters on the Korean Peninsula firsthand, but we should also work in concert with the world. We should take the initiative in handling our matters so that surrounding countries can follow us,” to which Mr. Moon replied to Mr. Kim’s statement.
They signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula. The document commits the two countries to a nuclear-free peninsula and talks to bring a formal end to the Korean War.
As novelist George Owell (1984) said: “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.” Indeed, the steps taken by the two leaders from here on out would decide their future.