April 30, 2018 / 2:33 AM / 6 months ago

South Korean trust in North jumps after feel-good summit

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean trust in North Korea has surged since last week’s feel-good summit at which their leaders declared an end to hostilities and to work towards denuclearization of the peninsula.

A survey taken on Friday, the day North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met South Korean President Moon Jae-in, showed 64.7 percent believe the North will denuclearize and keep peace. Before the summit, only 14.7 percent of those polled said they did, research agency Realmeter said on Monday.

Many South Koreans were struck by the live TV images during the summit of a smiling and joking Kim. Never before had they seen a self-deprecating and witty side to him, admitting that his country’s train system was inferior and promising he wouldn’t wake up Moon any more with early morning missile launches.

See graphic: Five decades of inter-Korean communications

Kim seemed markedly different from former North Korean leaders - his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, people on the street in Seoul said on Monday.

“Denuclearizing is definitely possible,” said 41-year-old Kim Jin-han. The North Korean leader “talked about his country’s weaknesses, such as the infrastructure. He was very open about that. This is very different from the previous leaders. So I think he is ready to wholly give up nuclear weapons.”

Kim’s comments about bringing Pyongyang-style cold noodles to the summit banquet clearly captivated many in the South, prompting some to add his face to the photo of a popular app for a food delivery service, holding a bowl of noodles under his arm.

One social media post getting attention said that with a successful summit, South Korea should brace for an onslaught of North Korean beer as the first wave of “cultural aggression”. A parody showed a South Korean news announcer reporting that Kim complaining about watery South Korean beer compared to Taedonggang Beer featured in the background.

South Korea’s stock market got a boost on Monday, lifted by shares of construction companies and train and steel manufacturers on hopes for joint economic projects.

NEXT SUMMIT

A euphoric mood also enveloped the presidential Blue House on Monday as Moon was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation by scores of aides and staff.

“I am confident a new era of peace will unfold on the Korean peninsula,” Moon told his aides, asking them to quickly follow up on the agreements made in Friday’s declaration.

The two sides are technically still at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty.

Moon’s approval rating after the summit rose to 70 percent, Realmeter said, its highest since mid-January.

Moon also told aides that U.S. President Donald Trump deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said.

“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told aides, according to a Blue House official who briefed the press.

In January, Moon had said Trump “deserves big credit” for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, saying it may have come from “U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”

Friday’s final declaration, however, leaves many questions unanswered, particularly what “denuclearization” means or how that will be achieved. Much hinges on Kim’s upcoming summit with Trump, who said it could happen in the next three to four weeks.

Any deal with the United States will require that North Korea demonstrate “irreversible” steps to shutting down its nuclear weapons program, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un bids farewell to South Korean President Moon Jae-in as he leaves after a farewell ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

A flurry of diplomacy is unfolding in the lead-up to that meeting, with China saying it will send the government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday this week. China is the North’s main ally.

And over the weekend, South Korea’s spy chief visited Tokyo to brief Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

NO MORE SPEAKERS

In initial small steps towards reconciliation, South Korea said on Monday it would remove loudspeakers that blared propaganda across the border, while North Korea said it would shift its clocks to align with its southern neighbor.

South Korea turned off the loudspeakers that broadcast a mixture of news, Korean pop songs and criticism of the North Korean regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of the summit. It will begin removing the speakers on Tuesday.

“We see this as the easiest first step to build military trust,” South Korean defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said. “We are expecting the North’s implementation.”

North Korea will shift its time zone 30 minutes earlier to align with South Korea, starting May 5, state media reported on Monday.

The KCNA dispatch said the decision came after Kim found it “a painful wrench” to see two clocks showing different times on a wall at the summit venue.

The northern time zone was created in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule after World War Two. South Korea and Japan are in the same time zone, nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Kim also told Moon during the summit he would soon invite experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea when the country dismantles its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, the Blue House said on Sunday.

Slideshow (7 Images)

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at the site, a series of tunnels dug into the mountains in the northeastern part of the country. Some experts and researchers have speculated that the most recent - and by far largest - blast in September had rendered the entire site unusable.

But Kim said there were two additional, larger tunnels that remain “in very good condition” beyond the existing one, which experts believe may have collapsed.

Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL and Matthew Miller in BEIJING. Writing by Malcolm Foster. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie

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