Kim Jong Un went to Panmunjom to reinforce North Korea’s nuclear power status, says former North Korean diplomat

Following the surprising Kim-Trump meeting at Panmunjom on June 30, excitement grew around the possibility of denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. On the morning of the 30th, when President Trump offered to meet Kim Jong Un via a tweet, I thought that there was no way that Kim Jong Un would actually come down to meet him at Panmunjom.

The reason is that during his April 12 speech to the plenary session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim stated that “although the US strongly hints at the settlement of issues through dialogue as it thinks about the third round of DPRK-US summit talks, the US still looks away from the withdrawal of its hostile policy, the basic way for establishing a new bilateral relationship; rather it mistakenly believes that if it pressures us to the maximum, it can subdue us. We, of course, attach importance to the settlement of issues through dialogue and negotiations, but the US-style dialogue of unilaterally pushing its demands does not fit us, nor are we interested in it.

Before lifting sanctions, the US wants the regime to commit to complete denuclearization, but the North Koreans are maintaining a step-by-step process, for example, they have offered to decommission the dilapidated Yongbyon site in return for the US lifting sanctions. The US and North Korea’s positions have not fundamentally changed. After all, Kim Jong Un broke his promise to the North Korean people when he met Trump for the third time because he announced he would not meet the US president again unless Trump changes his calculations.

I did not expect North Korea’s Supreme Leader to respond to such an informal offer from Trump who appeared to be thinking aloud over a tweet.

Furthermore, China’s President Xi Jinping was seeking to play the role of mediator at the G20 Summit in Osaka after his recent visit to North Korea. I thought that Kim Jong Un would at least show respect to Xi and make a move after the Chinese president first briefed each world leader.

But in the end, he decided to meet at Panmunjom.

I started to think about Kim Jong Un’s calculus after reading the July 1 issue of the Rodong Sinmun. I believe that Kim Jong Un’s primary objective is not about the denuclearization process at all, but to revamp internal solidarity and reinforce North Korea’s status as a nuclear power by creating the impression that the US is submitting to the regime.

The North Korean media emphasized that “the Supreme Leader and President Trump stepped toward the Panmun Pavilion on the north side of Panmunjom where they shook hands again, creating the historic moment of a sitting US President setting foot on the soil of the DPRK across the Military Demarcation Line for the first time in history.”

It reminded me of President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. The North Korean media also widely reported the moment when President Nixon stepped out of his plane and put his foot on Chinese soil.

At the time, Kim Il Sung described the visit with the tagline ‘Nixon visits China with a white flag.’ The US was previously trying to isolate China, but after China’s successful testing of a hydrogen bomb in 1967, the US announced the Nixon Doctrine and the US president visited China in 1972.

Kim Jong Un wants to create the impression among his people that the US is so desperate to meet that Trump came all the way to Panmunjom following the Singapore and Hanoi summits.

But the fact that President Trump mentioned the possibility of a meeting in the morning and Kim Jong Un came down that very afternoon, I thought that Kim Jong Un must be more desperate. I also assume that Kim did not gain much from Xi’s recent visit because he made the move without giving Xi due respect in terms of diplomatic protocol.

Unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, the US will not lift sanctions and will continue pursuing dialogue and sanctions side by side. Due to US pressure, China will also reduce its aid to North Korea and the ordinary North Koreans are the ones who will end up suffering.

The only purpose of nuclear weapons is to instill fear among the North Koreans that without the nukes, the US will attack. But what would the US gain by attacking North Korea?

Also, when I read Rodong Sinmun, I did not see the participants of the previous Hanoi Summit, Kim Young Chol, Kim Hyuk Chol, Park Chol, Kim Sung Hye and even Shin Hye Young who was the interpreter. There are many rumors saying that they were punished for the failure of the Hanoi Summit and sent for re-education or exiled to the countryside.

It is incomprehensible that the blame for the failure of the Hanoi Summit is being passed down the ranks, but in a country where the Marshal’s rule is absolute, he cannot be held responsible for failures. They always preach that the Marshal and the people are inseparable, so they should really abolish the practice of punishing lower ranks whenever something goes wrong.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.

*Translated by Yongmin Lee