- The historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to take place in Singapore on Tuesday.
- Public approval in South Korea toward Trump and Kim is higher than it has ever been, but a majority of Koreans doubt North Korea’s intentions, according to a recent poll.
- Business Insider spoke to many South Koreans in Seoul this weekend, who said they are hopeful the summit will help the peace process, but many doubt Trump and Kim’s intentions.
As the world gears up for a historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, South Koreans are looking on with a mixture of hope and scepticism.
The summit, due to take place Tuesday at the Capella Hotel in Singapore, could mark a historic turning point for both US-North Korea relations and inter-Korea relations.
While the US will push for comprehensive denuclearization of North Korea, South Korea will hope to build on the Panmunjom Declaration that President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un signed in April, which called for the Koreas to pursue a “permanent and solid peace regime.”
Of course, after nearly 70 years of war, it is perhaps unsurprising that South Koreans are cautious. According to a Gallup Korea poll from early June, 49% of South Koreans believe North Korea will work toward peace on the Korean peninsula or denuclearize, a decrease from 58% in early May.
Business Insider spoke to numerous South Koreans at a peace rally on Saturday organised by Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK) and on the streets of Seoul near City Hall on Sunday.
The South Koreans we spoke to expressed a mixture of scepticism toward the summit, hopefulness toward the prospect of lasting peace, and wariness of Trump’s intentions, who many thought was simply after a “grand event to boost his image.”
Here’s what they said:
“People might think Trump’s approach is unorthodox, abnormal, and amateurish, but I think this could all happen because of his approach,” said Park Tae-hoon, a 27-year-old political science graduate student from Seoul.
“I think that Trump, Kim, and Moon is the perfect combination – this meeting would not have happened with Hilary Clinton, or Park Geun-hye.
Moon Jae-in acted as a successful facilitator in making this summit happen, while Trump wants to make a deal.
As for Kim Jong Un, he was raised in Switzerland and has experienced Western culture. He wants to make progress with the US, and open up his economy making North Korea a “prosperous nation.” I don’t think this will be a one-time summit: There will no doubt be more negotiations and summits, but this is a great starting point.
I don’t think anything significant will happen after the summit. It’s a stepping stone to bridge the gap. They will no doubt try to reach an agreement to denuclearize and provide economic support, but this will take time.
Yes, people might think Trump’s approach is unorthodox, abnormal, and amateurish, but I think this could all happen because of his approach. No other politician in the US could have had a summit because no one has ever recognised North Korea as a proper nation. But this could happen because it’s Trump.
Ultimately his approach might actually have a positive impact.”
-Park Tae-hoon, a 27-year-old political science graduate student from Seoul
“This summit will be an opportunity to liberate ourselves from” the “constant uncertainty” of war, said Lee Tae-OK, a 51-year-old Won Buddhist from Gyeonggi, the province that surrounds Seoul.
“I want peace to come to the Korean Peninsula as soon as possible. Of course the summit is a good thing. We’ve been in a state of war for 70 years. While there might not be actual fighting, the fact is we are still in a state of constant uncertainty. This summit will be an opportunity to liberate ourselves from this.
Kim Jong Un and Trump are unpredictable, but this is the start of the conversation – the first time they speak. I think something good will happen. I just hope that Trump won’t miss this opportunity.”
-Lee Tae-OK, a 51-year-old Won Buddhist from Gyeonggi
“No matter what [Trump’s] real intentions are, there can still be a positive result,” said Park Jin-gyun, Secretary General of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Diocese of Uijeongbu, from Uijeongbu, a city north of Seoul.
“I wish to the see the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the signing of a peace treaty. I hope it goes well, but it’s very difficult to predict what will happen.
It was through the power of the people that we were able to bring political change to this country [with impeachment of Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s previous president who is currently serving a 24-year prison sentence for corruption] and I believe if we the people put our efforts into bringing peace, it will happen.
Regarding Trump, it’s not a matter of how or what he is doing. No matter what his real intentions are, there can still be a positive result.”
-Park Jin-gyun, Secretary General of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Diocese of Uijeongbu
“The fact is there has been no talk between the two Koreas for so long, it’s better than nothing,” said a female 35-year-old NGO worker from Seoul who asked to remain anonymous.
“I don’t think the summit is a bad thing, why would it be? I’ve come to this rally to show my support for peace. To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen on Tuesday. But there is talk of denuclearization and a peace treaty, so of course this is a good thing.
I’m not entirely sure about Trump as a person, but the fact is there has been no talk between the two Koreas for so long, it’s better than nothing.”
-A female 35-year-old NGO worker from Seoul
“I don’t think we can trust Trump to the very end, and part of me feels he’s doing this all for show,” said Lee, a 23-year-old International Relations undergraduate student from Incheon, a city bordering Seoul.
“I think the summit is a good thing. How can you not think so? I don’t think a bad thing will come out of this, but it’s difficult to know whether anything meaningful will.
For the summit, well, as you know, they said they would do it, then it got canceled, then now it’s on again. I think the US is laying out its playing cards on the table to strategically benefit out of the situation.
I don’t think we can trust Trump to the very end, and part of me feels he’s doing this all for show. That said, I do hope he resolves the nuclear issue.”
-Lee, a 23-year-old International Relations undergraduate student
“I don’t think Trump is sincere. He just needs a grand event to boost his image,” said Song Il-seok, a 31-year-old office worker from Seoul.
“I don’t think Trump is sincere. He just needs a grand event to boost his image.
At the same time, Kim Jong Un actually does need something: He needs to feed his people. North Koreans are starving. Why else do you think he would suddenly want to talk? He has no other choice – he’s desperate.
The summit will be a great photo opportunity, with handshakes, signatures, and promises – but Trump is ultimately a businessman, and I’m not sure he can be trusted.”
-Song Il-seok, 31-year-old office worker
“The summit can act as a stepping stone for peace not just on the Korean Peninsula but the world,” said Yoo Nam-hoon, a 37-year-old business owner from Seoul.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. First and foremost, for the people of North Korea who have a fundamental human right to be fed. This can be a first step on a humanitarian level.
As for South Korea, we are the only country in the world to be divided for 70 years. We are so tired of nuclear and missiles anxieties. Also, we’re wasting so much tax money on the military, which is always ready for war.
The summit can act as a stepping stone for peace, not just on the Korean Peninsula but the world. Yes, this is a problem between North and South Korea, but looking at the bigger picture, it’s actually a face-off between communism and capitalism.
The Koreas are not the ones with the real power; rather, it’s the US, China, and Russia. The latter two become mightier by the day, and if North Korea continues to be propped up by them, the world will become even more bipolar.
Resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula will weaken the strength of communism. In that sense, I think the summit can only be a good thing.”
-Yoo Nam-hoon, 37-year-old business owner
More on the Trump-Kim Summit:
- Who will be in the room when Trump meets Kim Jong Un
- Kim Jong Un has a massive advantage over Trump in the talks – but he could turn it against China
- We asked South Koreans what they think will come out of the Trump-Kim summit, and they were surprisingly optimistic
- Opinion: 6 critical questions we need to ask about the Trump-Kim summit before calling it a success or failure
- Kim Jong Un’s high school teacher says the North Korean leader probably knows English and just pretends not to
- Trump and Kim Jong Un are staying in hotels less than a half-mile apart, and this map shows how they’re basically neighbours
- Kim Jong Un’s internet-famous bodyguards have been seen jogging in formation around his car in Singapore – here’s everything we know about them
- Analysis: Trump is pushing for North Korea’s denuclearization, but Kim has his own agenda
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