It all started in February at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, when South Koreans and North Koreans walked under one united flag for the first time in over a decade. This moving display of unity marked a sign of hope that there may one day be a united Korean Peninsula, as I wrote in a March column. Now, it seems that day may come sooner than I had initially expected.
President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un are expected to meet on or around June 12 in Singapore. If the summit indeed occurs — as of now, I see no reason that it won’t — it will be the first time a sitting U.S. president meets with the leader of North Korea.
The Korean Peninsula has largely been divided since 1945. A North Korean attempt to unify the peninsula in 1950 led to the breakout of the Korean War, in which the North and South fought for three years to no avail, leaving millions of Koreans and more than 50,000 Americans dead. Since a peace settlement was never signed, the two Koreas are technically still at war to this day.
The peninsula was officially divided in 1953 by the Korean Demilitarized Zone at the 38th parallel, and the North and South have been adversaries ever since. But that may soon change, and the world may just have Trump to thank.
Trump is the first U.S. president in recent times to open a constructive dialogue with North Korea. President George W. Bush named North Korea part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran in his 2002 State of the Union address. President Barack Obama went as far as to threaten North Korea with the “military might” of the U.S. in 2014. Both former presidents failed to make any headway on forging a diplomatic relationship with North Korea and bringing unity to the Korean Peninsula.
The Trump Administration negotiated North Korea’s release of three American hostages earlier this month. He held a welcome-home ceremony in the middle of the night at Joint Base Andrews for the three Americans in yet another sign of improving relations between the U.S. and North Korea that past presidents were unable to achieve.
Kim has held several meetings — likely as a result of the proposed summit — with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who said Kim believes the face-to-face meeting with Trump could “put an end to the history of war” between the two Koreas. On Sunday, Moon also said Kim reaffirmed his commitment to “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in talks the two leaders held the day before at the demilitarized zone.
With the proposed summit just weeks away, officials from the U.S. and North Korea have been diligently meeting in order to forge an agreement on denuclearization that the leaders of both countries could sign at the summit. While complete denuclearization is rightfully Trump’s primary objective for the summit, many have their doubts that the North will dismantle its nuclear arsenal. Just last week, however, North Korea blew up tunnels at its only known nuclear test site in a clear display of Kim’s willingness to work with the U.S.
It’s time that we give Trump the credit he deserves. No U.S. president has ever gotten us this close to a united Korean Peninsula, and we should remain nothing but hopeful.
This story was updated to clarify that the Trump Administration negotiated North Korea’s release of three American hostages, not President Trump himself. In addition, the spelling of the North Korean leader’s name, Kim Jong Un, has been changed to reflect AP Style guidelines.
Correction: A previous version of this column misstated North and South Korea’s history of walking in unity during the Olympics. The teams had walked under a Unification Flag at the 2006 Olympics and in several previous games prior. The Daily regrets the error.
Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.