Some unlikely and dramatic developments took place towards the end of last month. Leaders of two superpowers visited the most secluded nation on the planet — North Korean – almost out of the blue sans much publicity. Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped onto North Korean soil on June 20, which was the first by a leader from the country in 14 years. It was said to be a brief visit but irrespective of the outcome of the meeting with Kim Jong-un, it was a welcome move. Then 10 days later, on June 30, Donald Trump made history by becoming the first sitting United States President to ever set foot on North Korean soil. This happened after war of words and threatening rhetoric between the leaders of the two nuclear-armed nations for years. Walking a few yards across the border in the demilitarised zone that separates North Korea and South Korea was significant as it was a symbolic gesture to tell the regime that it can trust the US.
Looking at the last few decades, no country has seriously tried to reach out to the regime and convince it to open up to the outside world. So much has been written about the country and its regime based on the accounts provided by those who managed to cross the border or through leaked information, yet the world knows so little about it. The country’s regime is so repressive that citizens cannot move freely to other countries and tourists too cannot explore the countryside or mix with the local people without permission. The moves of the tourists are orchestrated and those who break the rules set by Pyongyang are made to suffer in political prison camps. The country may have both horrifying as well as positive stories to tell but everything is concealed and only citizens know what is actually happening within the country. Misconception and misunderstanding are bound to happen if the truth, be it good or bad, is hidden from the public. In spite of the dire need to learn and unlearn about the country, fight poverty and persuade it towards nuclear disarmament, most world leaders do not have the will to do so. Then Trump stepped in – held two summits with Kim besides visiting Pyongyang in the last one year.
As expected, political opponents accused Trump of bestowing legitimacy to the North Korean regime through his visit, which he heralded as an important statement and a great honour. The US president might have anticipated criticism but he did what he did in an attempt to denuclearise the peninsula. His move should be appreciated because North Korea has been a ticking time bomb for many years; at times threatening to use nuclear weapon against countries that attempted to trample its sovereignty. His approach of eliminating the nuclear threat through diplomacy and peaceful persuasion is commendable. After all, it is better to defuse than detonate a bomb. But considering that the first two summits between the Trump and Kim failed chiefly because of the refusal to comprise on their goals, the countries should now keep their options open for a positive result to materialise when the nuclear negotiations resume. If the US continues to demand complete denuclearisation, the talks may fail again as Pyongyang takes pride in its nuclear weapons. But a positive outcome can be expected if North Korea agrees to stop all nuclear activities for reprieve from sanctions. It remains to be seen if the trump card works.