SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun went to Pyongyang on Tuesday for a summit to promote unity on the peninsula, and it was a big day too for makers of plastic flowers and foreign cars.
Trying to be friendly just a few minutes into North Korea, President Roh inadvertently placed his hand on the backside of a young North Korean woman who presented him with a bouquet as the two posed for a picture.
The errant hand quickly moved up to the woman’s back but not before the hundreds of reporters watching the border crossing on large-screen televisions in a Seoul government press centre saw the faux pas and burst out laughing.
Seven years ago Kim Jong-Il was all smiles and hugs when he greeted his Southern counterpart at the first inter-Korean summit, but this time he opted for something approaching a slouch as he waited for his guest. Roh beamed, but Kim kept a dour expression throughout the welcoming ceremony.
What better way to take a historic road trip between the capitals of divided Korea than to forgo the local Hyundai and travel in cars made by Germans and Americans. Roh took a bullet-proof Mercedes and his bodyguards massive, U.S.-made SUVs.
North Korean leader Kim, whose impoverished country has no domestic auto industry, also opted for a Mercedes in his drive to meet Roh. He laid on a Mercedes stretch convertible for the pair to ride through Pyongyang, flanked by an ageing Cadillac.
To mark the point where Roh passed through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the North, authorities laid an 80-cm (31-inch) strip of yellow plastic across the newly constructed highway for him and his entourage to step over. Roh called it the “Forbidden Line”.
SWISS-MADE INTER-KOREAN GIFTS
A spokesman said Roh wore a watch made at a factory park in the North where South Korean companies produce goods using cheap local labor and land. The spokesman said the watches represented inter-Korean unity and Roh would like to present one to Kim.
Many of the watches made there bear a “Swiss-made” label.
As Roh stood in an open car driving through the wide streets of the capital of one of the world’s poorest countries, hundreds of thousands lined the route waving pink plastic flowers and shouting “hurrah”, “reunify the fatherland” and “welcome”.
With additional reporting by Jack Kim and Jessica Kim