By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On June 12, President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un of People’s Republic of Korea will meet face to face in Singapore. What can you expect happening after such a historic meeting? What’s going on behind the scenes?
“Korea has not been in the spotlight much (since the Winter Olympics), but this time, the world will be watching,“ said Michael Park, former mayor of Federal Way and former chair of Seattle‘s chapter of National Unification Advisory Council, consisting of about 60 members. He estimated there are 70,000 to 80,000 Koreans living in Washington state.
Korean Americans wonder if the Korean War will end after more than 70 years. Will Trump and Kim both smile after the summit? Will reunification between North and South Korea speed up?
Will the people of North Korea get food supplies quickly? Do you think China, Russia, and Japan will support the reunification?
And who deserves the Nobel Prize? Trump? Kim? Or President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea?
“The Korean community is excited and hopeful about the summit,“ said Korean American Buwon Brown. “We have been waiting for good news for a long time. No matter what happens, we need to work it out for reunification. I like to see the reunification, just like East and West Germans.”
Although Brown‘s husband is Caucasian, he speaks fluent Korean and has taught in South Korea. He said, “It‘s time. At some point, [after many failed attempts,] we have to move on and make it happen.“
Ron and his wife were in South Korea during the inter-Korean summit in April. It‘s interesting that Koreans look at the upcoming summit as part of a development, rather than a new item, Ron said.
Seungja Song, another Korean American, said she is concerned with human rights violations in North Korea. She is heartbroken whenever she watches mainstream and Korean television networks showing North Koreans suffer terribly from malnutrition. They were forced to dig up roots to quell their hunger.
Park reminded us that not too long ago, North Korea was still hostile to the West, and Kim‘s shift in attitude was due to Moon’s efforts. So he welcomed Kim’s shift in attitude with his willingness to meet with Trump.
How major powers dominate in Korea
The issue of North Korea can‘t be solved by one country because of Korea’s history, said Buwon.
From Japan to China, Russia to United States, they all want to control the Peninsula, said Park.
Its history is as complex and messy as the Middle East, with all major powers fighting to have its influence. Because of Korea’s strategic location, Japan invaded and occupied it in 1910 until surrendering in World War II.
During the Korean War, China and Russia were involved. Russia had occupied North Korea after World War II just as the Americans did, and now in South Korea. And Russia built North Korea’s nuclear scientific research center in 1963. Presently, Japan, Russia, and China are in conflicts themselves due to territorial rights of some islands.
Park said Russia and China are likely to oppose reunification of North and South Korea for fear of one strong Korea nation.
“South Korea has the know-how and technology and North Korea has natural resources. If they join together, it will be a threat to all powers concerned,” said Park. Despite South Korea’s relatively small size, it ranks first in the world for fastest internet speed, beating Switzerland (No. 2), the United States, and other Asian countries.
Japan might not oppose reunification because it likes to have support from South Korea when fighting with Russia and China for the islands’ territorial claims, according to Park.
Before his meeting with the United States, Kim visited China twice to ask for guidance. Russia has invited Kim to visit in September. Also, South Korea sent delegations to Japan, Russia, and China in April to ask for support and advice, and President Moon personally visited Trump, for communication and coordination of the meeting for Kim and Trump.
Kim, Moon, and Trump
Park said Trump also wants to do what other U.S. presidents have been unable to achieve, hence the summit with North Korea. I suspect that’s Trump’s key motivation. It will be the first meeting ever between a U.S. president and North Korean leader, and the first between the two countries. Imagine the everlasting spotlight Trump and Kim will receive.
America has made the mistake once by giving up North Korea, said Park. General MacArthur wanted to go to North Korea during the Korean War, but President Franklin Roosevelt declined. This time, America won’t make the same mistake, he said.
Moon has studied not only Kim, but Trump. He recognizes both leaders are unpredictable, childish at times, and have big egos, said Park. And Moon plays them well to advance his goal.
“Trump wants to take credit for everything,” said Brown. Moon gives credit generously to Trump for pushing the summit.
Several back channels were used to bring the Koreas and the United States together, said Park, including the CIA.
North And South
The spark which brought North and South Korea together began years ago when the South Korean government invited the North to participate in the Winter Olympics. Kim had invited Moon to meet through his sister during the Olympics, and Moon accepted.
The Olympics has certainly opened the eyes of North Korean leaders and its people when the small country of South Korea made the Olympics spectacular and a world-class event through its creativity and technology. The country has seen much progress after the war. South Korea’s population is 49 million, almost double that of North Korea. North Korea often has famine and power outages, which would be a strange phenomena in the South. Kim promised a paradise when he took over his country after his father died, and has yet to deliver. It probably prompted him to take a different approach when dealing with South Korea and the United States.
Moon’s predecessor, who was arrested and jailed for corruption, advocated a hard line towards North Korea. Park called it a mistake. “It provided opportunities for Moon to deal with North Korea when he became president in 2017.” He made a gesture to Kim that he’s eager to help Kim and North Korea.
Park praised Moon’s efforts and strategies to engage Kim. He said Moon had signaled to Kim that he is different from his predecessor, to earn Kim’s trust. That was also Moon’s theme during his presidential campaign, that he wanted peace with North Korea. Currently, Moon is enjoying a 60 percent approval rating from his people.
During his meeting with Kim in April at the demilitarized zone, Moon said, “We are one country, we cannot be divided.”
The next summit is just the beginning and it will take years to see progress, but Park is optimistic.
Who deserves the Nobel
Who deserves the Nobel Prize?
“Trump plays an important role, Kim and Moon all play an important role during the process,” said Park. Does playing an important role mean they are deserving of the Nobel Prize?
No, Park responded.
Song echoed the same sentiments. “Of course, they all would like to get the Nobel Prize. Trump is awful. Moon has worked hard. Some Koreans have a different opinion towards Moon. But no…”
Song would like to visit North Korea someday. “There are some very beautiful scenery in North Korea.” She is dreaming that North Korea will open up soon.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.