The Trump-Kim Summit: Hermit Kingdom Opening Up

Touted as the Hermit Kingdom, the North Korea was once part for many centuries of a united Korean Peninsula, together with South Korea. The separation story began when Japan occupied Korea in 1910. Japan colonized the Peninsula for the next 35 years, ending it only with their surrender to the Allies during the Second World War. After the bombing in Nagasaki, Japan announced its unconditional surrender on 14 August 1945 and had its formal surrender on 2 September 1945 which ended World War II. Thereafter, the Koreans in the North yielded to the Soviets while those in the South surrendered to the Americans. Hence, after WWII, both the Soviets and the Americans were occupying a portion of Korea. In June 1950, the Korean Peninsula was divided by the 38th parallel, the latitude that the future U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and his colleague Col. Charles Bonesteel chose to be the line of control between the States and the Soviets. This thus created two separate governments in Korea: one in Pyongyang (North) and another in Seoul (South). This was initially a temporary set-up; however, the onslaught of Cold War, with the increasing tension between the States and the Soviet Union, inevitably affected as well the Korean Peninsula. This situation created the mounting distrust between the two Korean governments that eventually led to the splitting of Korea into two separate states, namely the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). At present, this set-up still holds true.

From that time on, North Korea has maintained an isolationist stance, setting it apart from the rest of the world. Being occupied and influenced by the Soviets, the North Korea adopted a communist type of government. It appointed Kim Il Sung as its first Supreme Leader, their communist chief who introduced the juche (“self-reliance”) type of political ideology which applies a high economic and political independence coupled with military autonomy. From Kim Il Sung until his grandson, the incumbent president Kim Jong Un, North Korea has adamantly preserved their self-isolation.

On 12 June 2018, the Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un Summit happened in Sentosa Singapore, igniting hopes once again for North Korea to negotiate with the international community. The event has been described as historical by the media as the hermitic kingdom seems to be showing signs of opening up to the world.

However, this peace negotiation with North Korea is not the first attempt. In 1972, there was a joint statement issued by both Koreas for a possible peaceful reunification. In 1985, North Korea joined the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which prohibited them to produce nuclear weapons. In October 1994, both North Korea and the USA signed an Agreed Framework in which the former agreed to freeze its operation of nuclear program in exchange for heavy fuel oil and two-light nuclear reactors. In June 2000, a first ever summit between the North (represented by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il) and the South Korea (represented by President Kim Dae-jung) was held in Pyongyang, striking higher hopes and greater expectations for a possible reunification between the two. In October 2007, the second summit between two Koreas was held again in Pyongyang. Most recently, both Koreas (represented by Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea) participated in the Inter-Korean Summit Meeting held at the ‘Peace House’ at Panmunjeom on 27 April 2018, thereby creating the name the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.

In spite of all these reunification efforts in the past decades, nothing constructive and substantive has been achieved. With the failed reconciliation attempts in the past, the lingering question looms largely on the horizon – Why the seemingly present turnaround on the part of North Korea?

Back in his first New Year speech in 2013, Kim Jon-un already intimated his plans for economic growth for his country, saying, “Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space.” In his 2018 New Year speech, the same emphasis on economy and nuclear defense had been inserted. The greater sanctions imposed on North Korea could have been taking their toll already in the said country. With the cumulative sanctions coming from the United Nations (nine rounds of sanctions), European Union (supplemental economic restrictions), and United States (unilateral sanctions), these may have become harsh enough to force North Korea to negotiate. The North Korean leader may also have realized that regime stability could not rely solely on military power, and that their lesser level of development compared to that of South Korea must have been a source of great humiliation for his country. Furthermore, it could also be hinted upon that the North Korea may want to follow the model of China, that of having a communist government but with liberal economy. Another perspective explains that a merger of the two Koreas could translate to an economic power in the Asian region, having the necessary economic composition of dynamic human resources, military power and economic clout.

The Trump-Kim Summit may have produced a sort of “milestone” in diplomatic relations with the Hermit Kingdom, but still, much more is to be spelled out. The specifications are yet to be operationalized on how to “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. Given all these said, the success indicator of the summit bears itself palpably upon in its implementation more than its promise.

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