North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center left) holds hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (center right) atop Mt. Paektu. They are flanked by their respective wives, Ri Sol-Ju (left) and Kim Jung-sook (right).Getty
On the third and final day of his trip to North Korea on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was treated to a trip most South Koreans can only dream of.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un brought Moon to Mount Paektu, the Korean peninsula’s tallest mountain and what is considered as the spiritual birthplace of the Korean people.
The two leaders posed for pictures on the rim of the 9,000-foot-high dormant volcano, holding their hands up in a sign of joint triumph, flanked by their wives.
Source: Associated Press
According to Korean folklore, Mt. Paektu was the birthplace of Dangun, the legendary first leader of Korea.
To reach the mountain, the two leaders flew from Pyongyang to Samjiyon, the town closest to the peak, Thursday morning. They then drove to the rim of the volcano, and then descended to the caldera lake below by gondola.
Sources: Associated Press/Korea Times
While Mt. Paektu is an important place for all Koreans, it holds significant meaning in North Korea.
The dense forests surrounding Mt. Paektu are where North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, organized guerilla troops to fight the Japanese during the colonial occupation.
Kim Il-Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong-il, is even said to have been born in 1941 at one of his father’s secret campsites on the mountain — though this is refuted by overseas historians who say he was born a year earlier in the former Soviet Union where his father was in exile.
The three Kim leaders are referred to as “the peerlessly great men of Mount Paektu” because of their connection to the peak.
Propaganda images often show the Kim men with Mt. Paektu in the background, and the peak is the symbol of North Korea’s state-run television network.
Source: Associated Press
When the group descended to Lake Chon in Mt. Paektu’s caldera, President Moon bottled some water to take home.
Only a few South Koreans have been allowed to visit Mt. Paektu from the North Korean side, though they can visit on the Chinese side. Most of the South Koreans who have visited the mountain from the North Korean side were invited for research purposes.
Moon, an avid hiker, said a friend had once offered to take him to the Chinese side, but he declined, saying he wanted to wait until he could visit from the North Korean side.
“My dream has come true,” Moon told Kim on Thursday. “When we met in April for the first summit, I told you that there’s one thing that I have wanted to do for a long time ― trekking the mountain and the Kaema Plateau. I swore many times that I would go Mt. Paektu from the North’s side. It seemed the timing has been realized earlier than expected. Now it has happened.”
Sources: AFP/Korea Times
It has previously been said that Kim Jong-un visits the mountain when he has big decisions to make.
He allegedly visited the mountain before deciding to send delegates to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, for example. It’s also reportedly where he came to the decision to execute his uncle, Jang Song-thaek.
Source: Korea Herald
During the three-day summit, Kim and Moon agreed to several joint efforts, including vying to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.
North Korea also agreed to close Tongchang-ri, its missile testing site. Kim also said he was open to closing his main nuclear complex, Tongbyon, if the U.S. carries out “corresponding measures.”
Source: Associated Press/AFP