There is no doubt that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to South Korea would be a historic milestone. But what is also certain is that simply making history would be meaningless unless it contributes to the Korean peace process, including denuclearization.
Given what President Moon Jae-in and Seoul officials said recently, an announcement on Kim’s visit to South Korea -- the first by a North Korean leader since the division of the peninsula -- may come at any time.
Moon said, during a joint news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Auckland on Monday, that there was a chance Kim might visit South Korea within the year.
Moon made the comment one day after he called on South Koreans to be ready for some inconveniences like traffic control if Kim visits Seoul.
A Unification Ministry official also fueled speculation that Kim may visit South Korea in the middle of this month, saying the Seoul government is making preparations.
Both Moon and the Unification Ministry official said the decision is purely up to Kim. But the comments by Moon and the official represent a departure from South Korean officials’ previous remarks, which suggested Kim’s visit might be delayed.
There have been reports -- which Seoul officials neither confirmed nor denied -- that the South proposed Dec. 13-14 for the visit, but the North declined.
Basically, Kim’s visit to the South should be welcomed. As Moon has said, any such visit would not only facilitate the US-North Korea negotiations on denuclearization but also improve inter-Korean relations.
However, one cannot but feel that Moon is too preoccupied with realizing Kim’s visit. He said that Kim’s visit to the South would provide a message of peace to the world and a message of commitment to denuclearization and improvement of inter-Korean relations.
Moon even said the visit itself was more important than the topics to be discussed.
Despite the symbolic significance of Kim’s visit to the South, the president’s excessive anticipation raises concerns.
Moon and his aides should remember that past historic events in inter-Korean relations -- despite all the hoopla -- did not result in permanent changes to the peace process on the peninsula.
The late President Kim Dae-jung made an unprecedented visit to Pyongyang, followed by Roh Moo-hyun in 2007.
But the late Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father, did not reciprocate the visits by the two late South Korean presidents. More importantly, many of the agreements made at past high-level meetings failed to establish peace or achieve reconciliation between the two sides. One example is the North’s continued development of nuclear and missile capabilities.
Look at what the US-North Korea disarmament talks have come to since Kim Jong-un’s historic meeting with US President Donald Trump in June. All these show meetings and visits -- however historic and symbolic -- do not guarantee the quick resolution of problems involving North Korea.
One more concern is Moon’s misguided hope that the whole South Korean population will welcome Kim’s visit.
Moon said that he believes there will be no division in public opinion and that all South Koreans -- conservatives and progressives, and ruling and opposition parties -- will welcome Kim with open arms.
This makes one wonder whether Moon thinks of his own country -- a democracy in which freedom of expression and speech is guaranteed -- as the same one controlled by a third-generation ruler of a dynastic totalitarian regime.
Anyone in this democracy has the right to oppose a visit by a man whose forefathers have inflicted so much pain on Koreans through repressive rule in the North and numerous provocations, including the Korean War, and to demand an apology. There are definitely preconditions for welcoming Kim’s visit.