Seoul (AFP) – South Koreans are divided on generational and political lines about Tuesday’s summit between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
Some hope for an end to Cold War confrontation and that the North will eventually give up its nuclear weapons, others are sceptical about Pyongyang’s intentions — and some say they have too many economic problems of their own to pay much attention.
– Older sceptics –
Lee Eun-ho, a 70-year-old worker, said the North would never give up its nuclear weapons as Kim had “developed them to hold on to power in the first place”.
“I have little expectation from the summit,” he said.
Reunification, he said, would be impossible because four powers — the US, China, Russia and Japan — do not want to see a unified Korea.
Choi Ho-chul, a 73-year-old former bank employee, said he doubts the North would give up nuclear weapons, which he said were a “means to control its population”.
“I bet the North will not abandon nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that the US and its allies should use both “carrots and sticks” to force the North to do so.
– Optimists –
Lee Hye-ji, a 31-year-old housewife, was “hopeful” about the Trump-Kim meeting, adding she was less interested in denuclearisation than a declaration that the Korean War was over, 65 years after hostilities stopped with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
“This would bring us a step closer to reunification”, she said.
Cho Sung-kwon, a 62-year-old pensioner, added: “It would be a good thing if we stop fighting.”
He said his perception of Kim — a “bad guy with nuclear weapons” — had improved considerably following his two meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
“Despite his young age, he seems to be shrewd,” he said, adding that he believes Kim realises his crusade to develop a nuclear arsenal to ensure his regime’s survival has “hit a dead end” under intensifying sanctions.
“I think the North will denuclearise… because it knows it has no other alternatives,” he said.
He added that the South would have to provide the North with economic aid as the two were ultimately one people.
“How awesome it would be if we are reunited like Germany!”
– Indifference –
Kim Hee-hyun, 30, believes Kim has reached the conclusion that denuclearisation will be beneficial for his own prospects, but was wary about the cost of reunification.
“The South cannot simply afford to take care of the North economically”, she said. “But cross-border exchanges and travels would be desirable.”
Other young South Koreans said they were too preoccupied with their search for work to pay attention to diplomacy.
The country’s youth unemployment rate stood at 10.7 percent in April and job-seeker Kim Tae-young — who has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and new materials — said: “Frankly speaking, I have no particular feelings about the summit, but I just hope it would help ease uncertainties.
“It is hard to tell whether reunification would be a good thing, considering the huge economic burdens and wide cultural differences between the two sides,” added the 27-year-old.
Lee Do-kyu, also 27 and unemployed, said the recent inter-Korean summits had raised his interest in politics, but it had waned rapidly.
“Because of difficulties finding a job these days, I have lost much interest in those things.”