‘Like watching a movie’: Kiwis in South Korea comment on summit

The first inter-Korean summit in 11 years took place on Friday, 27 April.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met DPRK leader Kim Jong-un at Panmunjom in the Demilitarised Zone.

The Asia Media Centre asked New Zealanders living in South Korea to share their views on the inter-Korean summit.

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‘The inter-Korean summit has had an impact on youth apathy’

Jennifer Yoo

Jennifer Yoo: I believe Kim Jong-un will stick to his words. (Photo: Supplied) 

Jennifer Yoo, 26 – Employee at a trading company, Seoul

“I was having lunch at my aunt’s house and watched the live broadcast with my cousin. It felt strange as the last time this kind of summit took place was 11 years ago, and I wasn’t in Korea to watch it.

My grandfather – who started an education foundation that helped many North Korean defectors and Chinese students study and live in South Korea – had a close relationship with former president Kim Dae-jung, a strong advocate for the unification of Korea. So I grew up with a set perspective that unification was bound to happen – although I never really had a strong stance either way. My grandfather was happy when watching the broadcast. 

My cousin, who is 30, does not like Kim Jong-un at all. She is very anti-unification. My other relatives were surprised at how normal Kim Jong-un seems. They are definitely closely watching the latest developments.

I think the inter-Korean summit has had an impact on youth apathy over North Korea issues. Because of the wide media coverage, literally everyone is interested, including myself. It’s all over Instagram and Facebook, too. It definitely makes us want to know more about how we became like this and what things are going to be like in the future.

I believe Kim Jong-un will stick to his words. So do many of my friends. Because it is already significant for Kim to say whatever he said at the summit in front of the whole world. And I think he is slightly more open-minded than his father.”

‘It felt like I was watching a movie’

Matt Lindsay – Assistant Professor at Hoseo University, Asan; and Vice-Chair, New Zealand Alumni Association Korea

I had a 9.30am class scheduled on Friday, so I watched the live broadcast in class with my university students. It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was watching a movie.

Media coverage in South Korea after the event, both online and in print, has been extensive. However, I was surprised that the Korea Times website wasn’t livestreaming Kim Jong-un crossing the border.

I hope that Kim Jong-uns promises are sincere and lead to progress. However, I’m not sure if his promise to stop nuclear testing is due to desire or a forced necessity. Either way, no further testing or rocket launches can only be of benefit to the peninsula, the region, and the world.

The South Korean Foreign Minister credited Trump for the success of the inter-Korean summit [but] I think the only person who shares this view is President Trump himself. I believe the South Korean people feel that the success of the inter-Korean summit can be credited to the two Koreas. The government officials of the two Koreas and the Korean people as a whole have enabled this progress to occur. If anything, President Trump’s random tweeting has increased the potential for conflict.”

‘Moon’s domestic popularity has increased’

Jared Lynskey

Jared Lynskey: Most of my friends say it was a historic day. (Photo: Supplied)

Jared Lynskey – Master’s student in computer science, Kyung Hee University, Yongin

“I watched the live broadcast on YouTube. I was very surprised by the sudden announcement of peace since last year’s threats made by North Korea. If the promises are sincere it’s great news.

The things I liked about the summit were the spontaneous and unplanned bits – like when President Moon Jae-in stepped over to North Korea with Kim Jong-un. It was interesting to watch the guards that surrounded and followed Kim Jong-un’s car back to North Korea at the lunch-time break. The speeches held at the end of the summit in the evening, including the announcement to end the Korean War, were very positive. In my opinion, Moon’s domestic popularity has increased, since the inter-Korean summit has given even greater hope for the two Koreas to reunify. 

Most of my South Korean friends say it was a historic day for the two Koreas. I still think younger South Koreans have no real interest over North Korean issues since the general attitude of South Koreans is that North Korea poses no real threat to South Korea. I think the younger generation prioritise tasks like passing an exam, or obtaining university entrance over issues related to North Korea relations.

The inter-Korean summit was extensively covered on the day, but news about the talks since then have dramatically decreased, including my interest in it.

‘We’ve never been closer to peace’

Gerard Patena – Self-employed, Seoul

Like so many here in South Korea and around the world, I could not help but think, we have been in this situation before. North Korea needs something. And like always, the world falls for their tricks. But this time it feels different. It feels like Kim Jong-un actually wants to bring his country out of isolation. Although Im sure this comes from the tough sanctions that both the UN and US have put in place, I am hopeful that this is real change, and that the Korean Peninsula will finally have peace.

South Korea’s media is usually quite biased, and is very much conservative. This is evident with the local conservative-owned newspapers and media channels. The Hankyoreh, a liberal newspaper, is more evenly balanced in its reporting. But since the success of the recent summit, all the South Korean media outlets have been publishing and broadcasting positive stories on the issue.

My feeling regarding the Foreign Minister’s comments is that the South Korean government wants to get this peace deal signed. And they know that by crediting President Trump with its success, it will help in terms of having peace on the Peninsula. South Koreans in general are not fans of Trump. The younger generation of South Koreans would prefer their own President be given credit for the success of the summit. But, like all Koreans, they know that peace and the possible unification of their country is ultimately in the hands of President Trump.

I have lived in South Korea since 2003. And in that time, I have thought peace would never come to the Peninsula. That unification was just a distant dream. And yes, while we are some way off from that, we have never been closer than we are today. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: Peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.”

‘I am quietly optimistic’

Onnuri Lee at Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, 2014

Onnuri Lee (third from left) at a clothing factory at Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea in 2014. (Photo: Supplied)

Onnuri Lee, 34 – MBA graduate, Seoul

The inter-Korean summit symbolically came at a time of change in seasons from winter to spring in the Korean Peninsula. The public mood was optimistic, cheerful, and hopeful about this historic moment. I was also filled with emotion about the possibilities that families who were forcibly separated due to the war can be reunited, and greater economic prosperity and peace in the Peninsula.

At this moment, a full reunification in the near future seems challenging. The different economic, social, and political structures are big hurdles to overcome, despite the shared language and culture. But I am quietly optimistic that a Miracle on the Han River can be similarly realised for the Peninsula if North and South Korea work together.

– Asia Media Centre