Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(News Focus) N.K. leader unlikely to visit Busan before 3rd U.S.-N.K. summit: experts

North Korea 17:46 September 24, 2019

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's spy agency created a buzz Tuesday with a suggestion that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could travel to the southeastern city of Busan in November for a summit with Southeast Asian leaders, but chances of such a trip materializing appear low, expert said.

The National Intelligence Service reported to parliament that Kim could visit Busan for a special summit that the South is hosting for the leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), depending on progress in nuclear talks with the U.S.

Kim's trip, if realized, would mark the first-ever visit to the South by a North Korean leader since the 1950-53 Korean War, though he crossed the military demarcation line into the South side of the Demilitarized Zone for his first summit with President Moon Jae-in last year.

All inter-Korean summits, except those held at the DMZ, took place in Pyongyang, including the third summit between Kim and Moon held in September last year. During the talks, Kim agreed to make a reciprocal visit to the South by the end of last year, but failed to make good on the promise.

The idea of inviting the North's leader to the ASEAN summit set for Nov. 25 was first raised by Indonesian President Joko Widodo during an annual ASEAN summit in November last year. Moon welcomed the suggestion and said he would consider inviting Kim.

But few had expected such a trip to be possible at a time when inter-Korean relations have been stalled amid a lack of progress in nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and the North. That's why the spy agency's suggestion surprised many, even though it was conditional on progress in nuclear talks.

Experts said such a visit by Kim is possible in theory, but not enough time is left. They noted that progress in nuclear negotiations will become apparent only after the U.S. and the North hold working-level nuclear talks and then a third summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Until another U.S.-North Korea summit, we cannot talk about how much progress is being made in the North's denuclearization process," professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said.

Cheong Seong-chang, Vice President of Research Planning at the Sejong Institute, also said even if Washington and Pyongyang make some progress at their working-level talks, an agreement can only be finalized and announced through a third Trump-Kim summit.

"If the denuclearization talks make rapid progress by the end of October and another U.S.-North Korea summit is held, Kim's Busan visit in November is possible. But if not, it will be difficult," Cheong said. "For now, the visit is theoretically possible, but realistically unlikely."

In this file photo, taken on July 25, 2019, and released by the Korean Central News Agency the following day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claps after watching a missile launch from a site near the North's eastern coastal town of Wonsan. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

In this file photo, taken on July 25, 2019, and released by the Korean Central News Agency the following day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claps after watching a missile launch from a site near the North's eastern coastal town of Wonsan. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The U.S. and North Korea are expected to resume their talks in the coming weeks after months of deadlock following the no-deal Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim in February. The Hanoi summit collapsed as the two sides failed to find common ground over the North's denuclearization steps and corresponding measures from the U.S.

On Friday, the North's new nuclear envoy, Kim Myong-gil, welcomed Trump's suggestion of a "new method" to break the impasse in the negotiations and expressed optimism for the upcoming talks.

Despite the expected resumption of the nuclear talks, inter-Korean relations remain chilled with major cross-border projects at a standstill.

North Korea has been continuing its criticism of the South through its media outlets, while not responding to Seoul's repeated proposal for cooperation in various sectors.

"North Korea is betting everything on the nuclear negotiations until the end of this year. To think that Kim will visit Busan amid such circumstances is to think that he has much time to spare. Kim doesn't have such time," Cheong said.

The visit, if it takes place, will be a highly symbolic event marking Kim's first debut at a multilateral diplomatic meeting.

Kim has engaged in multiple bilateral talks -- including those with Trump, Moon, as well as with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- but has not attended a multilateral diplomatic meeting since he took power in late 2011.

Professor Yang said Kim's Busan visit would be a good opportunity to foment his image as the head of a "normal state" and tap into opportunities for economic development through cooperation with ASEAN nations.

In expressing hope for Kim's participation at the Busan summit, President Moon has stressed the "immensely constructive role" the ASEAN is playing in the Korea peace process, citing the two historic summits between North Korea and the U.S. which took place in Singapore and Vietnam, respectively.

In 2000, North Korea joined the ASEAN Regional Forum under Thailand's active facilitation, which remains the only regional security consultative forum with the communist nation as an official member.

"For now, the barometer to gauge the possibility of Kim's Busan visit is the upcoming working-level talks," Cheong said. "Depending on how much progress is made at the working-level talks, the fate of the subsequent Trump-Kim summit and improvement inter-Korean relations will be decided."


Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!