EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Korean summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in was full of encouraging optics, but it is too early to declare the success of the upcoming Trump-Kim summit a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism.
The Korean summit that took place on April 27, 2018, at which Kim Jong-un met with Moon Jae-in, was a historic event. For the first time since the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1948, a North Korean leader crossed the DMZ to the South to meet with a South Korean president. Prior to this summit, President Kim Dae-jung (in 2000) and President Roh Moo-hyun (in 2007) visited Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il (Kim Jong-un’s father). Kim Jong-il was expected to visit the south, but this visit never took place due to the nuclear and missile crisis.
The Korean summit in April was carefully orchestrated to demonstrate harmonious relations between the leaders and the potential for peace. The crossing of the DMZ and the “smiling diplomacy,” as well as the intimacy the leaders projected, shattered some of the demonized images and psychological barriers that prevailed before the summit. However, while supporters of the summit saw it as the beginning of a peace process that would include denuclearization of the Peninsula, conservatives remain skeptical. To them, the summit was just a tactical maneuver by Kim to gain time and financial assistance without giving up his nuclear weapons.