At 23:30 local time on Friday, North Korean clocks moved forward thirty minutes to midnight, in order to resynchronise its time zone with its Southern counterpart. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proposed and committed to the measure at a landmark summit last week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that took place at the Peace House venue along their shared border. The two countries had used the same time zone for decades, but in 2015, the North had decided to create its distinct “Pyongyang Time”, stating that it did so in order to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its departure from Tokyo’s colonies, as well as to establish itself as a distinct state apart from South Korea and Japan. Reunification of the time zones has been described as another hallmark success in the process of national reconciliation and peace on the peninsula.
Indeed, the significance of this move was noted by both North and South Korea. In an English dispatch, the North’s Korean Central News Agency stated that, “the time-resetting is the first practical step taken after the historic third North-South summit meeting.” In doing so, the report added, this would serve to, “speed up the process for the North and the South to become one and turn their different and separated things into the same and single ones.” From Seoul, Kathy Novak with Al Jazeera reported that, “South Korea welcomed the move, saying it represents a decision to remove the obstacles in the path to inter-Korea and US-North Korean exchanges and cooperation that are to come.” Novak then added: “Many people here are feeling renewed hope about this country’s relationship with North Korea.”
Much like the decision made by North Korea three years ago to change their time zone, the decision to bring the two countries back together in this respect likewise holds important symbolic resonance. In addition to their own reasoning for doing so, it should be noted that North Korea had created “Pyongyang Time” during a period of heightened tensions with the United States over its nuclear weapons program and extensive international sanctions aimed at pressuring its dismantlement. As such, Adam Taylor, in an article for the Washington Post, noted that the change appeared to be grounded neither in history nor logic, but rather an indication of deteriorating inter-Korean relations. Clocks in the North being brought forward suggests the same significance, but opposite in meaning: that, at least for now, the two countries are on the same page.
Whether the current thawing of the tensions between North and South Korea will hold and precipitate meaningful progress towards peace in the region is not easy to predict. While it is apparent that their recent peace talks have made meaningful progress towards reconciliation – including the agreement to assist the reunions of families separated by the Korean War and the subsequent inability to travel across the border – there has yet to be a substantive breakthrough in terms of the nuclear standoff. This will be an issue to be addressed by Kim and United States President Donald Trump, the two of whom, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, are expected to meet sometime in May or early June. Nevertheless, though the promise of a “lasting peace” expressed by North and South Korean leaders has garnered a fair amount of both scepticism and hope, sharing a common time once again will only ease future talks between these countries.