Seoul, South Korea – South Koreans, and the world, will be watching a historic handshake when leaders from both sides of the Korean border start off the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade.
President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un will sit down for talks and a dinner at Friday’s summit, parts of which will be broadcast live.
The event, the first inter-Korean summit since 2007, takes place at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom.
“This summit will focus more on denuclearisation and securing of permanent peace than anything else,” South’s presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, told a media briefing.
“I feel North Korea is sending their key military officials to the summit as they too, believe denuclearisation and peace are important.”
But on the eve of the talks, expectations have grown among North and South Koreans for an improvement in cross-border ties, including easing the military tension amid nuclear threats and the continuation of talks past the day-long summit.
Scepticism among many is also brewing. Some critics are wary of North Korea’s surprising move for disarmament and dialogue.
They remain concerned about whether the summit would be fruitful or not.
Al Jazeera speaks to people from both sides of the border to see what the general mood is and whether they think the talks will be fruitful or not.
Kim Ju-hong, South Korean, barber
“I welcome the talks and hope they work out well. South Koreans are concerned about both sides making the previous mistakes and that’s why a lot of people don’t trust the talks. But I do.
“I still have doubts about Kim’s promise of denuclearisation, but I hope he keeps his word.
“I think we need to leave unification out for now and go with a two-country system. Later we can unify when there is a shared feeling on this matter and when circumstances are right for it.”
Lee Min-bok, North Korean, activist
“I back the engagement but not the style. The South Korean administration has a submissive attitude. President Moon said he is treating the matter like a piece of glass. Is that necessary?
“Kim needs to show us proof that he has halted the nuclear tests. Until then, the sanctions must continue. If the summit leads to ending sanctions, that would be a big mistake.”
Son Jeong-wook, South Korea, student
“We have been having more dialogues than before and that’s why we can definitely develop our relations with the North. But I don’t think North Korea would stick to its promise of denuclearisation because it will reduce its power and strength if it does.
“In the summit, the first thing they need to discuss is ensuring North Korea stops its violent provocations to the South. I think it’s important to get their promise not to attack us again.”
Choi Sung-guk, North Korean, webtoon artist
“Kim has been cornered so he’s desperate and what he needs is time to wait for US President Donald Trump to step down.
“The upcoming summit is buying time for Kim. Even though he said he will stop nuclear tests, it doesn’t change the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons.
“I’m glad the summit is happening because I hope it gives the world the chance to finally see how stubborn and uncooperative the Kim regime is.
“North Korea under Kim will never change. What North Korea needs to change is its leadership. For that, the North Korean people need to step up, see the light.”
Suh Hyung-lim, South Korean, consultant
“Success of this summit will depend on whether the two sides are able to focus on actual measures for denuclearisation.
“I had doubts about North Korea’s pledges in the past because none of them were kept. But I expect it to be different this time.
“The fact that Kim Jong-un will be walking to Panmunjom for the talks shows a change in attitude. A lot of people talk about unification but I think they are looking too far ahead. Many steps are required before the two Koreas agree to unify.”
Kim Yong-hwa, North Korean, activist
“As an activist for North Korean human rights, I’m critical of the summits and engagement in general. South Korea is not just sacrificing something small, it’s crushing the rights of the people.
“If the summit leads to humanitarian aid, that’s good. But will that aid give hope to the people?
“Nothing concrete has come to fruition but South Korea is making leaps, swayed by superficial gestures.
“North Korea is a country that violates human rights and by the talks, President Moon is making the North look like a country that is advocating peace.”
Koh Sang-beom, South Korean, designer
“I’m sceptical of whether North Korea would give up its nuclear arms. It said it would stop the test. But that also means it doesn’t need any more tests.
“What use would the peace agreement have if North Korea still provokes and attacks like it did on Yeonpyeong island a few years ago?
“Signing on a piece of paper is just a formality. What matters most is the de-escalation of military tension. The peace agreement is meaningless if soldiers are still guarding the heavily armed border.”
Park Jung-oh, North Korean, educational activist
“I don’t think engagement is a good idea. Kim is weak now and is using South Korea’s invitation for peace as a last resort. Kim won’t give up nuclear weapons.
“We aren’t asking for a suspension on nuclear weapon production but for the nuclear weapons to be eliminated.
“Still, President Moon wants to sign a peace treaty so that South Korea can reduce its dependence on US military power.
“I expect the summit will end up being Moon just going along with Kim’s wishes. North Korea isn’t really planning to change.”
Captain Yeon, North Korean, defector and former lieutenant
“For North Korea, engagement is the only choice. North Korea has depended on China until now but that’s not possible any more.
“The reason why North Korea volunteered to stop nuclear weapon production is probably because Kim can’t gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people when they’ve starved and suffered long enough to know the economy is dead.
“I think that possibly another reason is that Kim has reached the very best nuclear weapons he can produce.
“The summit is the best he can do right now. But not the summit nor any other engagement will change the political structure because if the socialist system ends, Kim Jong-un ends.”
Additional reporting by Hae Ju Kang and Faras Ghani.