South to celebrate summit anniversary alone

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South to celebrate summit anniversary alone

South Korea will celebrate the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration, signed at the first inter-Korean summit in April last year, likely without North Korean participation, the Unification Ministry revealed on Sunday.

Seoul will host a music festival titled “a performance for peace” at the border village of Panmunjom on Saturday evening, with artists from the United States, Japan, China and South Korea performing to the theme of “a far but necessary path,” according to a press release by the ministry.

A senior ministry official told reporters that while the North would be “informed” of the event, the possibility that Pyongyang would dispatch representatives remained “hard to predict.” The event is set to be held in the same venues in Panmunjom where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in their historic first meeting.

The absence of the North at the celebrations of the summit that brought the two Koreas closer than they had been at any point in the last decade would serve as a major setback to the Moon administration’s policy toward Pyongyang, which has recently given the cold shoulder to the South since its summit with the United States in Hanoi, Vietnam, broke apart in February.

Saturday’s celebration embodies the reconciliation approach, with 500 guests set to attend, including ordinary citizens, artists, politicians and government figures like Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung. The event will be televised live across South Korea, the official said. Representatives of the United Nations Command, which oversees the armistice agreement on the peninsula, are also set to take part in the ceremony.

The ministry announced the ceremony to the press before informing the North about it, which the official said would be done at an “appropriate time.”

This invited controversy about the current nature of inter-Korean relations and whether Pyongyang is deliberately ignoring the South as a result of its discontent over the lack of economic exchanges, which are currently blocked by international sanctions.

At the Kaesong liaison office - the main communication channel between the Koreas - contact between the North and South’s officials has shrunk. Since last month, when the North inexplicably withdrew its officials from the office and then sent them back three days later, Pyongyang’s main liaison officer has not shown up to his regular Friday meeting with his Seoul counterpart. The Unification Ministry official said the theme of the upcoming ceremony was selected in acknowledgement of these recent difficulties and is meant to highlight that the path to building peace is arduous, yet essential.

Seoul reportedly tried to pursue holding a joint orchestra concert with Pyongyang and Moscow to celebrate the anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit in light of these moves, but these plans appear to have been derailed due to apathy from the North.

In lieu of celebrating with the South, Kim may watch a ballet concert in Vladivostok this week after his summit, followed by a possible tour of the city, according to a Russian official cited Japan’s Kyodo News on Monday.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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