Mayor of Busan Oh Keo-don told media on Wednesday that preparations for November’s Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit were progressing well and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had been invited to attend the event as an observer.
“With regard to that issue [Kim Jong-un’s attendance], developments on the Korean Peninsula are liable to be very changeable at any time from now until the summit. So I cannot say that Chairman Kim’s visit is completely out of the question or guaranteed.
“The one thing I can say is that [South Korean] President Moon Jae-in, during his last visit to Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, commented that if Chairman Kim is to visit Busan, it will be an important development to peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Mayor Oh made his remarks at a press conference held for the Asean-Korea Train: Advancing Together, a three-day trip for 200 Asean delegates to five major cities in South Korea that started on Wednesday.
Before Busan, the delegates were in the capital Seoul, and are also set to visit Gyeongju, Suncheon, and Gwangju.
The trip is an official side event in preparation for the 2019 Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit, set to be held in Busan on November 25 and 26 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Asean-Republic of Korea Dialogue Partnership, established in 1989.
The summit is expected to draw leaders from all 10 Asean nations.
“As the mayor of Busan and its 3.5 million citizens, we very much hope that Chairman Kim can visit our city,” he said.
Oh said a North Korean sports delegation was given “a warm welcome” when they visited Busan in 2002, adding that he expected positive memories from that trip to increase the likelihood of Kim visiting the city this November.
The invitation to participate in the summit was reportedly extended to North Korea several months ago but is yet to be accepted.
Lim Sung-nam, South Korea’s Ambassador to Asean, said during the press conference that November’s summit in Busan would be an opportunity to foster regional peace and security through collaboration between Asean and both Koreas.
He said he expected peace on the Korean peninsula to be raised for discussion during the summit, with talks regarding Asean and South Korean cooperation on wider regional security issues also to be raised.
“We have the opportunity to push for peace, such as fighting terrorism and extremism, security and marine security. These are areas that Asean and South Korea can cooperate on to push for peace in the future,” Lim said.
The summit would also be an opportunity to work against trans-border crimes, an issue that is set to be discussed at a ministerial level, Lim said.
Southeast Asia has played an important role in Korean peninsula peace talks in recent years, with two summits held in Asean nations – the first in Singapore last year and the second in Vietnam this year – between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
Experts believe that unless substantial progress is made between the US and North Korea on stalled nuclear talks, there is little chance of Kim visiting Busan.
Lecturer and Special Adviser on International Affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University Paul Chambers told The Post via email that Kim was unlikely to attend the summit without announcing his intention to in advance.
However, he said that “if he [Kim] did suddenly attend, then it would be a surprising blessing for the chances of peace on the Korean Peninsula”.
North and South Korea have been divided along the 38th parallel since the end of World War II in 1945. The subsequent Korean war from 1950-53 ended in a stalemate, leaving the two nations divided by the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that remains in place today.
While the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, a peace treaty was never agreed, with the two Koreas still technically at war with one another in a ‘frozen conflict’.
Historically, both regimes claim to be the sole legitimate government of the whole of the Korean peninsula.