THE feared doomsday clock is due for adjustment by at least a couple of minutes before “midnight,” a metaphor for man-made global catastrophe, now that the rival Koreas have agreed to end their war and denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Hopes are up again that the world may now be a less dangerous place, thanks to concerted efforts in Seoul, Washington, and indeed, Pyongyang.
Unthinkable only months ago, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met at the border town of Panmunjom on Friday, in only the third inter-Korean summit since leaders of the two countries first met in 2000.
The summit was laden with symbolism, and rendered more meaningful by spontaneous-looking gestures captured by the global press and played over and over again in short clips on social media.
Stepping down from an imposing military façade on the northern side of the demarcation line, near the 38th Parallel that has divided the Koreas since a 1953 armistice, Kim, left alone by a coterie of bodyguards and senior aides, looked briefly to the sky as he walked toward the border line.
Upon seeing President Moon, who was waiting for him on the other side of the border, Kim flashed a wide smile and crossed the threshold to “new history,” becoming the first North Korean supreme leader to go to the South.
Moon and Kim clasped each other’s hands and posed for cameras on both sides. Then Kim made a surprise move: after Moon asked when would be his turn to visit the North, Kim invited him to step north of the border.
Moon agreed. After a few seconds, both leaders crossed back, holding hands the entire time.
It should be noted that the third inter-Korean summit did not happen overnight. President Moon knows this, having facilitated the second summit as chief of staff to then South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who met the late Kim Jong-il in 2007.
Moon could teach world leaders a thing or two about diplomacy after convincing the North to de-escalate tensions using the 2018 Winter Olympics, in which North and South marched together under one flag and even competed as one team in ice hockey.
Mistakes of the past were avoided, such as the scandalous $500-million bribe the South gave to the North to ensure that Kim Jong-il showed up at the first inter-Korean summit with then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in 2000.
The US did its part, with President Donald Trump changing his tune toward Kim at exactly the right time, agreeing in principle to meet the North Korean leader if he agreed to return to negotiations.
To be sure, the real deal would only become a reality when both sides start and continue working to make peace permanent in the divided peninsula. Both sides, along with Washington and Beijing, must hammer out a final peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended hostilities between the North and South in 1953.
After that, all parties must negotiate the terms of denuclearization. This will be tricky, as the North views denuclearization as involving the complete pullout of American forces from the South. This is a tall order, and is enough reason to be cautious.
For now, the world can rest assured that there is merit in being optimistic on optimism itself. Just last year Kim, a brutal dictator who has oppressed his long-suffering people, launched his sixth nuclear test and drew widespread condemnation.
On Friday, Kim and Moon demonstrated before the world that no matter how high the tensions and harsh the threats, there is always a chance to cross back to the threshold, hands together, toward the path to long-lasting peace.