This would be one of the most significant steps that both North and South Korea have taken to open up tourism. But allowing border crossings is anything but a done deal at this point given the rocky relations between both countries.
Instagramming tourists may soon get the chance to reenact one of Asia’s most iconic moments in recent memory: April’s embrace between the leaders of the two Koreas.
Visitors to the Joint Security Area — where soldiers from the two sides have stood face to face for decades — will be able to freely cross the demarcation line “in the near future,” South Korea’s defense ministry said Wednesday, without specifying a date. That includes South Korean nationals, who have been barred from taking part in such trips since 1953 — except for a special reunion in which select elderly South Koreans were allowed to cross the border to visit relatives.
The ministry said it planned to work with relevant officials, including the U.S. and the United Nations, to lift the restrictions as soon as possible.
Expect social media feeds to buzz with images of tourists embracing and stepping over the 50-centimeter (20-inch) wide cement slab at the border to recreate the April 27 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. The pair signed an agreement pledging to “transform the Demilitarized Zone into a peace zone,” to demonstrate their desire to end the still-unresolved Korean War.
Opening the border to tourists is one of several moves to ratchet down tensions on the Korean Peninsula since Kim opened the door to talks with Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year. The South Korean president signed a military relations pact during a visit to Pyongyang last month, including promises to remove landmines from the border zone and reduce the number of guard posts.
South Korean government officials were expected to visit the DMZ on Wednesday afternoon to observe the landmine removal. Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, and Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon were among those slated to attend.
Before the hug between Kim and Moon, the border was the site of several deadly clashes. It’s where North Koreans used an ax to kill two U.S. soldiers sent to cut back a tree 42 years ago. Moon — then just 23 — was among a group of soldiers later called out to ensure the tree-trimming was completed, according to his autobiography.
In November, a North Korean guard was shot half a dozen times by his fellow guards as he sprinted across the border to defect.
Photo credit: Visitors to the Joint Security Area -- where soldiers from the two sides have stood face to face for decades -- will be able to freely cross the demarcation line “in the near future,” South Korea’s defense ministry said Wednesday. Jihye Lee / Bloomberg