The White House announced Friday, January 18 that a second summit will take place between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in February. A location for the summit has not yet been announced. The announcement follows high level talks earlier this week between North Korean and US officials.
It’s been roughly a year and a half since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon. In the intervening time, the two Koreas have engaged in unprecedented dialogue and cooperation. Kim Jong-un seems committed to denuclearization; South Korean intelligent agents were invited to inspect the DPRK’s nuclear program for the first time in 2018.
2018 was a year of progress for peace in the Korean Peninsula. Not since before the Korean War have relations been this good with the hermit nation of North Korea. Last year, we witnessed the decommission of many guard towers, mines, and fences along the 38th parallel. North Korea also claimed they destroyed one of their primary nuclear testing facilities in 2018, though that has not been independently verified. Regardless, it is impossible to deny the historical significance of these proceedings.
US President Donald Trump has been pivotal in getting North Korea this far in the peace process. That is according to Japanese PM Shinzō Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Trump has taken a “tough love” approach to Kim and it has proven incredibly effective. The original US-DPRK summit was scheduled for May 2018 but shenanigans delayed it and almost ended up terminating the event. In a May letter to Kim Jong-un responding to DPRK rhetoric, Trump cancelled the newly planned June 12th summit and extended the opportunity for North Korea to continue the path to prosperity should they vow to commit to peace.
By June 1, 2018, North Korea had once again agreed to a summit with the United States and it accordingly took place on June 12. Hosted at a ritzy hotel in Singapore, it was the first such meeting in history between sitting US and North Korean leaders. President Trump and Kim Jong-un both signed a deceleration committing to peace in the peninsula and denuclearization. As of fall, the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, world famous for its simple blue buildings and opposing soldiers standing at attention, was demilitarized; all weapons have been removed. In another inspiring note of progress, the two Koreas are now studying the possibility of connecting their railway infrastructure.
As part of the summit deal, US soldiers’ remains from the Korean War began to return to American soil. These heroes are often called the dead of the “forgotten war.” President Trump did not forget them; so far, at least 55 soldiers have been brought back for final rest in hollowed ground stateside.
One of the unlikely heroes of this story is NBA hall of famer Dennis Rodman. Due to Kim’s love of Western culture and sports, Dennis Rodman made several trips to North Korea to personally meet with him over the last couple of years. They shot some hoops and ended up doing diplomacy, too. The history books will reflect Dennis Rodman’s efforts in bringing the Korean War to an end. Stranger things have happened, but this is way out there.
It’s abundantly clear that a lot has changed in just the last year. A second peace summit between North Korea and the United States is probably going to happen sometime in 2019. Before it does, however, US Vice President Mike Pence has made it clear that the DPRK must produce a comprehensive list of all its active warheads, nuclear production facilities and test sites. It’s uncertain whether or not North Korea will follow through with these demands; denuclearization is the most important requirement for peace in the peninsula.
Another event recently gave way to a glimpse of westernization and hope, Kim Jong-un’s 2019 New Years Address. It was broadcast from the casual environment of Kim’s office. The location was in stark contrast to the despotic scene of years past, the architecturally intimidating DPRK Congress. He also wore business attire instead of the grey, humanity-lacking pantsuit of those less promising times.
Looking towards the future, it’s hard not to feel hopeful. So much historic progress has been made between North Korea, their Korean neighbors, and the USA. Walls have come down. Roads have been joined. Deals have been made. Peace and prosperity awaits a free and united Korean people.