- + Historical adversaries dealing with the issue of denuclearisation.
- + A simple tweet created a camaraderie between the two.
- + Expressions of willingness to work towards a future, after Trump crossed the 38th parallel can be seen.
The event that lifted tensions
The US has entered into a frenemy relationship with North Korea since Trump came to power in 2016. On Sunday, 30th of June 2019, Trump became the first sitting American commander in chief to set foot in North Korea, by stepping over the 38th parallel. It has long been enemy territory and no US president had ever crossed it before. At 3:46 pm that day, Trump made history and walked 20 paces towards a building on the North Korean side as a demonstration of regenerating and strengthening negotiations between both nations, which had been put to a standstill previously.
June 2019, was not the first time that both Trump and Kim Jong-un had met. In June 2018, Kim Jong-un and Trump held their first historic face to face talks in Singapore and nearly a year after in February 2019, were held again in Hanoi, Vietnam. Both venues of dialogue focused on the same topic – the denuclearisation of North Korea.
However, the former talks carried very unspecific terms, hence reaching no end. The latter involved dismantling all of the Yongbyon complex, which is the research and production facility at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme. In return, Kim Jong-un wanted all of North Korea’s sanctions to be lifted. Evidently, the US was not going to agree to that. Moreover, Kim Jong-un had only committed to destroying the nation’s plutonium and uranium located in Yongbyon but had not offered the complete destruction of all of their nuclear apparatus.
The closest moment Kim Jong-un had been, or at least seemed likely, to accept Trump’s demands was in June 2019. The historical event, which ordinarily would have taken months to organise, was quickly arranged through Twitter only 24 hours earlier.
After Trump’s minute and a half on hostile territory, classified as such since the end of the Korean War 66 years ago, he went together with Kim over the line into South Korea. South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, was also present and the three of them entered the Freedom House for a private conversation.
The main figures in question started to revitalise the talks of the two previous years. Since then, tensions within the Korean peninsula have heavily reduced and an interim deal was secured over Yongbyon. In a similar vein, the impromptu meeting and Kim Jong-un’s acceptance signalled a slight move forward towards an agreement and the elimination of concussing terms and conditions.
From State sanctions to shaking hands
Trump’s stage management, without doubt, led to a flip-over of the relationship that previously existed between North Korea and the US.
Since Trump came to power in 2017, North Korea has suspended its nuclear tests. That very year in May, North Korea also destroyed Punggye-ri, a nuclear testing site. Moreover, Kim Jong-un ordered the release of detained Americans and sent back the remains of the American soldiers that had been killed in the war.
The peaceful and diplomatic re-engaging relations were also felt in South Korea, which President Moon Jae-in perceived as an optimistic end to the Korean war. He even praised Trump to be “the peacemaker of the Korean Peninsula”. These negotiations have increased inter-Korean cooperation, thereby peace and tranquillity are being felt by Koreans after nearly half a century. South Korea has lifted and removed some military positions that it had near the DMZ and the US and South Korea have suspended joint exercise, to avoid North Korea feeling threatened and prolong the diplomatic achievement.
Trump treated North Korea’s president just as any other head of state, something that no other national leader had ever done. More importantly, Kim Jong-un has been the first leader of North Korea to agree to three meetings with an American leader, a consent shown neither by his father or grandfather.
A great day for the world?
Both leaders are known for being unpredictable, mercurial, and hostile. Many think tanks have stated that North Korea would be the biggest foreign policy challenge that his administration would face. However, these two leaders, who are basically worlds apart, managed to put their ruthlessness and ego into a consented strategy that could have possibly enabled Trump to eventually achieve North Korea’s denuclearisation.
Moreover, as many newspapers commented, it would be a foreign policy victory that he could use to disprove the Democrats’ who believed that he would not be able to achieve this. As Trump very well declared: “previous presidents have trekked into the DMZ, but none have met with either the leader of North Korea or South Korea while there. Kim, on the hand, received praise for North Korea’s economic modernisation and respect in the international arena, while cementing his continued leadership. Moreover, Kim also sought the removal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula.
As Trump declared both leaders “fell in love”. After an hour of negotiations with Kim, he described the meeting as “very, very good.” Kim said this was “an expression of his willingness” to work toward a new future.
Such declarations put forward one of the main changes that Trump brought to America’s trade policy, i.e. the switch towards bilateral agreements, rather than multilateral negotiations due to his vision of the global economy as a zero-sum conflict. His campaign flagged protectionism throughout, and this is what he brought to the table.
Notably, their relationship has not been steady all the way through. Early in 2018, both leaders engaged in personal attacks on social media, increasing the fear in the international community, as well as provoking a sense of fear and anxiety between citizens and the military.
Though the Trump-Kim summit in June 2019 and the historic or a rather ‘reality TV show moment‘ of Trump’s crossing the 38th parallel, amounted to a big leap towards a constructive future between both nations. Signalling, the intention of both leaders to leave behind the past and work hard on their future relationship.
On top of this, beyond the achievement of eventual denuclearisation and transformation of diplomacy between both nations, Trump started to play up rumours about the former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to prevent him from receiving a Nobel Peace Prize nomination again. Yet more “business achievements” for Trump.
What will happen with the Biden-Harris era?
Currently, with the election of the new US President, Joe Biden, the approach towards North Korea may change drastically. It is true that Trump has brought North Korea to a negotiation table. However, complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula has not yet occurred. As for the US, sanctions continue to be in place and the possibility of easing them continues to be quite ambiguous.
Though, it is undeniable that even if North Korea continued to hold a large arsenal of missiles, it would be very unlikely that Kim ordered its use against the United States, as many experts have commented.
The change in diplomacy has already been marked by Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who alleged the need for a full review of the US approach towards the country in the northern part of the Korean peninsula. Blinken is already looking for new diplomatic initiatives, and his stand diverts more into the humanitarian side of the equation, rather than just on the security side. Recently, Kim already called for more advanced nuclear weapons and days before Inauguration Day he openly depicted the US as “our biggest enemy”.
Overall, the camaraderie built between Trump and North Korea has crumbled to pieces. North Korea is rebuilding its missile testing facilities again and subsequently, tension is rebuilding between both nations. Are we back to where we started in 2016? Probably yes, though only time will say if reconciliation could be put back again on the table.