Everyone Wants to Know If Kim Jong Un Will Visit Seoul This Month

Youkyung Lee
Everyone Wants to Know If Kim Jong Un Will Visit Seoul This Month

(Bloomberg) -- A wave of speculation is sweeping South Korea over whether Kim Jong Un will visit Seoul this month, a trip that would mark a North Korean leader’s first time in the capital.

Neither government has released firm plans for a trip -- but that hasn’t stopped a flurry of speculation in South Korean media. Kim crossed into South Korea in April at a truce village straddling the heavily armed border, but he and previous North Korean leaders have avoided visiting Seoul, which presents a raft of security concerns.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told parliament on Friday that he and a small number of officials are preparing for a visit by Kim -- but that nothing has been determined. “We continue to discuss this with North Korea,” Cho said.

Read more: Kim Jong Un Is Getting Ready to Meet a Bunch of World Leaders

South Korean police have reviewed security for his visit, according to a diplomatic source who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office on Friday denied reports that he and his senior officials had discussed the possibility of a visit by Kim earlier this month upon Moon’s return from overseas travel. Moon’s office also denied reports claiming South Korean officials and senior American diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Seoul had discussed the visit.

South Korean media reports suggested that if a visit occurred, it would take place either before or after the Dec. 17 anniversary of the death of Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il.

Divisive Visit

Given the Kim regime’s secretive nature, any visit to Seoul by its leader is likely to be kept quiet until the last minute. North Korea’s official media typically didn’t report on Kim Jong Il’s foreign visits until had returned safely home.

A trip could be divisive, with progressive South Korean civic groups looking at ways to welcome Kim and hard-right groups wanting to keep him out. South Korean police have voiced concerns about death threats and people throwing fire bottles at Kim, Chosun Ilbo reported, citing unidentified police officials.

More than half of South Koreans would welcome a visit, a Realmeter poll showed this week. Realmeter said 61 percent of 500 respondents welcomed Kim’s visit because it would help reconciliation and peace on the Korean peninsula, while 31 percent were in opposition.

Moon, long an advocate of engagement with North Korea, has met with Kim three times. He was enthusiastic about a potential visit.

“There could be no split in public opinion regarding Chairman Kim Jong Un’s visit,” Moon told reporters on his plane Dec. 1. “I believe all citizens would welcome him with open arms.”

Read more: U.S. Accelerates Talks With North Korea After Kim-Moon Summit

After returning from his own historic visit to Pyongyang in September, Moon surprised South Korea’s public by announcing that Kim had promised to visit South Korea in the near future. Moon said Kim’s appearance would show his commitment to peace and denuclearization.

U.S. President Donald Trump said this week he expects to hold a second summit with Kim as soon as next month, and that three locations are being considered. Trump and Kim met in June in Singapore, a landmark meeting aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But progress toward North Korea’s complete denuclearization has since faltered.

To contact the reporter on this story: Youkyung Lee in Seoul at ylee582@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Karen Leigh

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