Letter to the Editor: Notion that Trump is to credit for possible peace on Korean Peninsula is misguided

Many have weighed in and shared their thoughts on recent developments in a promised peace treaty to be signed this year by South and North Korea. Yet I feel that a column written by Wesley Shirola in The Daily Northwestern crediting President Trump for the Panmunjom Declaration, and even possible reunification, requires a response. While I agree it is necessary for the U.S. to engage in talks to achieve permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, the notion it is thanks to Trump that the two Koreas have come to the negotiation table is heavily misguided.

The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics were not the first time in history when South and North Koreans walked under the unification flag. Both countries marched under a single flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympics, as well as three Asian Games and a Summer Universiade. The peninsula’s march under a single flag is also not the first nudge toward reunification that brought this year’s peace treaty discussions to the table. Both sides of the peninsula have engaged in on-and-off talks for decades, with varying degrees of success over the years.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has made it a controversial priority to express good will toward North Korea. This is a policy he has been a proponent of for years, and Moon’s presidency brings with it a progressive government that prioritizes constructive and friendly dialogue. That is a huge diplomacy shift for South Korea from the two previous conservative administrations, which adopted a more guarded and confrontational policy on North Korea.

While Moon has worked to appease political strains on the peninsula — which seemingly reached an all-time high last summer, when North Korea announced its development of an intercontinental ballistic missile — President Trump further exacerbated tensions when he went on Twitter rampages the ensuing months: “Will someone from (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s) depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump’s constant and vitriolic rhetoric of possibly using his “massive and powerful” missiles on North Korea (while also calling Kim Jong Un “short and fat”) has been far from diplomatic, and millions of Koreans could only watch with confusion and unease.

The writer’s assertion that former U.S. presidents “failed to make any headway on forging a diplomatic relationship with North Korea and bringing unity to the Korean Peninsula” is incorrect. During his presidency, former President Bill Clinton announced a nuclear agreement between the U.S. and North Korea called the Agreed Framework. So much progress was made, in fact, that the Vice Marshal of North Korea traveled to Washington to meet with Clinton in 2000. Later that month, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made an official visit to North Korea, despite the insistence of Congressional Republicans that Clinton refrain from engaging. All efforts were then derailed when President George W. Bush came into office.

Kim Jong Un’s reaching out to South Korea in Panmunjom did not happen because of Trump. It happened despite Trump. It is the fact that Moon has been instrumental in fostering a positive dialogue, and the fact that Kim Jong Un has developed enough nuclear weapons to come to the bargaining table.

A surface-level, American-centric analysis with little understanding of the deep complexities and nuances of Korean politics is more than misguided; it is wrong. Peace talks are not thanks to the United States. They are thanks to the parties directly involved: the South and North Korean governments. If reunification does someday occur, it is absolutely not to Trump’s credit. It is to the credit of the Korean people, and only them.

Paige Shin
Medill junior