North Korea dominated the headlines in 2018 with historic meetings and heightened tensions over nuclear threats. This year Kim Jong-Un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Supreme Leader of North Korea, has met with multiple world leaders, and has been vocal about his stance on the North Korean nuclear program. This has ignited strong reactions, ranging from hope, confusion, and fear around the world.
Kim Jong-Un met with Moon Jae-In, the President of South Korea, in April for an inter-Korean summit. The countries reached a historic agreement to work toward peace and reunification following decades of conflict. North Korea promised to retire its nuclear program, and both countries signed an agreement pledging to work towards the “common goal” of denuclearization on the peninsula. In late October, along with the United Nations Command, North and South Korea agreed to remove firearms and guard posts from a portion of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.
While the two countries are still technically at war, the visible thaw in relations began in February at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Athletes from North and South Korea marched under a unified flag at the opening ceremony PyeongChang, and the women’s ice hockey team featured women from both countries competing together. Following inter-Korean sport talks on November 2, North and South Korea issued a statement announcing that they wish to compete as a unified team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and intend on bidding to co-host the 2032 Summer Games.
Despite initial plans for Kim Jong-Un to visit Seoul, Moon Jae-In told parliamentary leaders that the trip may be delayed until early next year. This highly anticipated event would be historic, as it would be the first time a North Korean head of state ventured to the South. Even as the trip has been postponed, however, both countries have agreed that further demilitarization should continue, as should reunions between families separated for decades on either side of the border.
North Korea has also been meeting with leaders of other nations in a bid to join the global community. Kim Jong-Un met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in early November in Pyongyang. According to North Korea’s state media, they agreed to expand and strengthen their strategic relations. They discussed ways to boost ties between their countries in fields such as the economy, culture, public health, science, and technology. The state media stressed their shared socialist history and commitment to continued solidarity. Both are hoping to get out from under US economic sanctions.
Prior to that meeting, Kim Jong-Un met with US President Donald Trump for the first time in Singapore in June, resulting in President Trump declaring that Kim, “trusts me, and I trust him.” Leading up to high-level talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol in early November, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned that if the United States did not ease the sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang could restart “building up nuclear forces.” The day before the discussions were scheduled, the State Department announced that they would be delayed. They did not give a specific reason for the decision, but tensions between the two countries have continued to rise. The negotiations are currently at a stalemate, as the United States is only willing to form a peaceful relationship with North Korea until after it gives up its nuclear weapons, and North Korea is only willing to give up its nuclear weapons once it has established a peaceful and trusting relationship with the United States.
Rhetoric centered upon the threat of nuclear weapon usage has instilled unease around the world. A missile test alert in Hawaii resulted in widespread panic fueled by the tension between North Korea and the United States. Just days later, a Japanese public broadcaster NHK mistakenly sent out an alert warning that North Korea had fired a missile; this was quickly corrected.
This year North Korea has made history. Kim Jong-Un continues to work to end his country’s years of isolation through meetings with high ranking officials and leaders around the world. As conversations continue between the United States and North Korea, only time can tell what progress will be made in regard to denuclearization.
Learn more about nuclear power on the global scale with Armageddon and Paranoia: The Nuclear Confrontation since 1945 and Nuclear Power: A Very Short Introduction.
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