Tons of tangerines flown to North
“At 8 a.m. our military cargo plane left Jeju Airport for Pyongyang Sunan Airport carrying Jeju tangerines,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, a Blue House spokesperson, in a brief text message to reporters.
A total of 200 tons of tangerines were to be flown to the North over two days packed in 20,000 boxes, each weighing 10 kilograms (22 pounds).
“200 tons of tangerines will be transported in four trips over today and tomorrow,” Kim said, adding that for each trip a group of four C-130 aircrafts would be mobilized.
Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and Suh Ho, presidential secretary for unification policy, also traveled with the tangerines.
The cargo plane returned from its first trip to Pyongyang at 1 p.m. After re-loading, it left Jeju at 3 p.m. and returned again around 8 p.m. on Sunday night.
Another two trips will be conducted at the same time on Monday to complete the delivery of all 200 tons of tangerines.
“We have selected tangerines as gifts considering that it is a rather difficult fruit to obtain for North Korean residents,” said the spokesperson, adding that such a large amount was sent in the hope that more North Koreans would be able to enjoy them.
The Blue House’s surprise gift of tangerines comes nearly two months after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave South Korean President Moon Jae-in two tons of pine mushrooms on the occasion of the third Moon-Kim summit held in the North Korean capital in September.
It was the same gift that former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, gave to South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun during their summits in 2000 and 2007.
The two tons of mushrooms were distributed to South Korean families who have been separated from their loved ones in the North since the 1950-53 Korean War and who have not been able to attend a family reunion event. Each family was given 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of North Korean mushrooms.
The fact that Moon gave Kim the Jeju tangerines raised speculation that he might invite Kim to the island if the North Korean leader makes a reciprocal visit to the South as agreed in the Pyongyang Declaration.
The two sides agreed that Kim should make the crossing “at an early date at the invitation of President Moon Jae-in.” The president said during the Pyongyang summit that “an early date” meant by the end of this year.
Kim’s mother’s family is thought to come from Jeju and some of his distant relatives are reportedly buried there. During a hike with Blue House reporters on Oct. 28, Moon said he could invite Kim to Jeju if he made the reciprocal visit to Seoul.
While the Jeju tangerine delivery has rekindled expectations that Kim may soon visit the South, it remains to be seen whether the summit will actually take place this year.
Kim’s second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump is planned to be held next year, although the exact date and time have not been determined.
Without a specific agreement between Kim and Trump on the North’s denuclearization, Moon and Kim are limited in their discussions on inter-Korean cooperation, experts say.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [email@example.com]