OSAKA — Local Korean residents welcomed Tuesday’s historic summit between the leaders of North and South Korea but cautioned that numerous hurdles remained to reunification.
“A large step forward toward peace was taken today, and Koreans throughout Japan welcome the summit between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il,” said Kim Jong Ui, a spokesman for the Osaka branch of the pro-Pyonyang General Association of Korean Residents (Chongryun).
“However, the issue of Korean reunification is one that must be decided upon by the people of both Koreas only,” Kim said. “It is not a problem for the international community.”
At the Chongryun office, about 70 North Koreans gathered in front of a television to witness the historic handshake between the two leaders.
The mood was upbeat, and signs in Japanese welcoming the summit were posted in and around the group’s hall.
In contrast, the mood at the Osaka chapter of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union (Mindan), home to those originally from South Korea, was quiet.
Park Young Chul, executive director of the Mindan chapter, called the summit meeting the first historic meeting of the 21st century. But he said that, unlike Germany, there were no prospects of a quick reunification.
“The situation when Germany reunified was completely different,” Park said. “Korea is moving toward eventual reunification. But it is a slow, step-by-step, process that will take time.”
Park disagreed with Chongyrun’s claim that the problem of Korean unification is one for Koreans only.
“Countries surrounding Korea, including Japan and China, as well as the United States, should play an active role in realizing a peaceful reunification,” Park said.
Osaka Prefecture is home to about 160,000 of Japan’s 700,000 Korean residents.
About 150,000 residents claim allegiance to South Korea, but the North Korean community in Osaka, though small, is active. Nearly 2,300 students study at one of 14 Chongryun-backed private schools.
“Traditionally, Mindan and Chongryun have not cooperated and have had separate education systems,” Park said. “We are hoping that the summit will lead to a thawing of relations between us and Chongryun.”
In Osaka’s Ikuno Ward, one in four residents are Korean — Japan’s largest concentration of Korean residents. In the ward’s Tsuruhashi district, the old divisions between North and South Korea were less important Tuesday than promises of seeing long-lost relatives.
“Many who belong to Mindan have relatives in North Korea, and many of those who claim North Korean ancestry have families in the South,” said Park Song Myun, who manages a Korean BBQ shop near JR Tsuruhashi Station, adding that his family is originally from South Korea.
“If the summit does nothing else,” he said, “I hope that it leads to Koreans in Korea and here in Japan being able to visit each other more easily.”