SENAY EMMANUEL WRITES – On June 30th, 2019, US President Donald Trump met with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas. With that, Trump became the first sitting US president to visit the isolated country. This symbolic gesture made for an incredible photo op and scored points with supporters back home, but was it just for show or did it signal a restart of US-North Korea talks?
Given the failure of the February 2019 Hanoi summit to result in any agreement between the two sides, the June meeting heightened the desire for both to continue to find common ground. They agreed to establish diplomatic teams and resume lower-level talks; but such talks have been happening for some time. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was present at the historic visit, said that the rendezvous “gave a big hope to the world and the 80 million people of South and North Korea.” Moon’s words seems to indicate that the images of the North Korean and American leaders reconnecting at the border that were broadcast around the world were more symbolic than actual diplomatic work.
Many experts seem to agree. One is Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University who described the recent meeting as a show, by sending a message of seeming progress without achieving anything. Lankov also pushed back on Trump’s claim that this meeting was arranged within 24 hours. It was, after all, a very short meeting compared to the previous summits in Singapore and Hanoi. Max Boot, a historian and foreign-policy analyst with the Washington Post, echoes the same sentiments, saying the meeting was “symbolism utterly devoid of substance.”
Yet even if the meeting was in fact all for show, it sends a powerful and useful message for both Kim’s and Trump’s domestic and international audiences. It legitimizes the Trump Administration by suggesting that it is composed of serious peacemakers. It legitimizes the Kim regime by suggesting a true commitment to resolving differences with the US and South Korea.
Both Trump and Kim are mercurial. But at least the supposedly impromptu DMZ summit showed the world that the Hanoi Summit wasn’t an end to US-NK talks. Next time, the two leaders may do more than shake hands and smile for the camera.