What does a 180 turn in North Korean diplomacy really mean?

Over the last few months, we have seen Kim Jong Un display a willingness to open up to the democratised world – an act that wasn’t exactly predictable given North Korea’s track record as a secretive, self-reliant state. It has been reported that the leader secretly visited China on a two-day tour, beginning on the 25th March- informing the idea that he is ready to start dialogues beyond North Korea’s territorial borders. On top of this, news that Un is promising to hold summits with the USA and South Korea in upcoming months has been a surprise to say the least, but it’s hard to not question, why now?

If the North Korean president meets face-to-face with Trump, it will be the first time in history that sitting leaders from the two states have ever had such an encounter. Post- World War Two tensions have remained high between the nations, as North Korea represented nothing but failure to the United States – a functioning communist nation, which threatened the USA’s democratic influence beyond Western Europe. Whereas, South Korea remained a strong-hold for America’s political values – the border between North and South could be thought of as the Berlin Wall of East Asia.

The desire to reunify North and South has been long-instilled in North Korean history. The Korean War (1950-1953) showed an aggressive tactic by Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il-Sung as he ordered an invasion of the South in attempt to recapture land. The rhetoric has now changed, with the current North Korean leader telling a highly-ranked South Korean delegate that he wants to “write a new history of national reunification” when statesmen from both sides of the border met in Pyongyang at the start of the month. A statement that sounds much more placid than the usual propaganda we have come to expect.

Denuclearisation has been at the centre of these diplomatic movements, after 2017 saw North Korea test 23 missiles between February and December. A spike in testing that alarmed world leaders and even got Trump excited enough to tweet about his own ‘much bigger’ and ‘more powerful nuclear button’ that ‘actually works’! It is interesting that such child-like tough talk has resulted in a change of tactic from Kim Jong-Un, let’s hope some legitimate progress can come out of this. Nuclear weapons will be on top of the agenda without a doubt, and hopefully North Korea’s mass abuse of human rights will come up at their little tea party.

As the US secure new trade deals with South Korea, it seems that this triangular diplomacy might be more of a display of power than it is an act of genuine cooperation. Is the US doing all it can to display its authority in upcoming negotiations? Has North Korea realised its isolated existence just isn’t sustainable? And will it truly reduce its nuclear armament?

We can try to be optimistic – but I’m not getting my hopes up.