To hold talks with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, will take unprecedented steps for a man in his position—literally. The summit will be held south of the military demarcation line in the truce village of Panmunjom. Since at least the start of the Korean War in 1950, no North Korean leader has crossed the border and visited the South. (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North is officially called, was established in 1948.)
Panmunjom is an odd place. It’s the only point of the Korean demilitarized zone—one the world’s most heavily fortified borders—where soldiers from each side directly face each other. In November, a defector from the North escaped across it, barely surviving gunshot wounds inflicted by his comrades. At the same time, Panmunjom is popular with tourists.
The summit will take place in the Peace House, often considered a neutral area despite being on the South side of the demarcation line.
The two nations have held two other summits, in 2000 and 2007. But both of those took place in the North’s capital of Pyongyang. After the first, the South asked Kim’s late father (Kim Jong-il) to visit Seoul, but the dictator turned down the offer, explaining that while Seoul might be an economic center, Pyongyang was the true Korean capital.
It’s highly meaningful, then, that today’s Kim is willing to hold a summit in the South. But it also means the North needs to feel confident about security—something it takes very seriously. For example, Kim’s trip to Beijing last month took place via a slow, bulletproof train, and is believed to have involved three separate trains: an advance one searching for bombs and a rear one carrying extra bodyguards and extra equipment. The trip was officially kept a secret until the train was back in Pyongyang.
Similarly, we can expect both the North and South to keep the security details classified leading up to the summit. But it’s a safe bet they’ll be thorough.