By Juni Kim
It’s been quite a year for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. After a tense 2017 with multiple ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missile) tests, threatening rhetoric, and North Korea’s largest nuclear demonstration, Kim Jong-un embarked on a very different approach in 2018. Fashioning himself as an open and reasonable statesmen, he has gone on a whirlwind summit tour throughout the year meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and U.S. President Donald Trump (the former two leaders Kim has met with on three separate occasions). Prior to 2018, Kim Jong-un had never met with another head of state and has no known foreign visits since assuming power in 2011.
With 2018 drawing to a close, here is a look back at the summits Kim Jong-un has participated in with other world leaders.
March 25-28 – China-DPRK summit (Beijing, China)
Traveling by train under heavy security, Kim Jong-un started his summit tour with an unannounced visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to reports from the state-sponsored Chinese news outlet Xinhua, Kim expressed to Xi his willingness to engage in talks with the United States, saying, “If South Korea and the United States respond with good will to our efforts and create an atmosphere of peace and stability, and take phased, synchronized measures to achieve peace, the issue of the denuclearization of the peninsula can reach resolution.” Xi in turn vocalized his support for North Korea’s openness to talks. Both leaders also emphasized the importance of their bilateral ties and shared history.
April 27 – Inter-Korean summit (Joint Security Area)
After almost eleven years since the last inter-Korean summit, Kim Jong-un met his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in for the first time at the demarcated border of the Joint Security Area on April 27th. The two leaders held a joint press conference voicing their commitment towards peace and signed the Panmunjom Declaration, which pledged that the two countries would pursue a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” seek an end-of-war declaration, establish a joint liaison office, and foster greater cooperation and exchanges among other trust-building measures. Many parts of the summit, including the initial meeting and joint press conference, were broadcast live for public viewing.
May 7-8 – China-DPRK summit (Dalian, China)
In less than a month and a half since their first visit, Kim and Xi Jinping met again on May 7th and 8th in the Chinese port city of Dalian. In light of the rapid developments on the Korean peninsula, Xinhua reported on the meeting that “the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries had an all-round and in-depth exchange of views on China-DPRK relations and major issues of common concern.” Kim reiterated his commitment to denuclearization on the peninsula, quoted saying “I hope to build mutual trust with the U.S. through dialogue.”
May 26 – Inter-Korean summit (Joint Security Area)
On May 24th, U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly announced the cancellation of the planned U.S.-DPRK summit, citing hostile rhetoric from North Korea as the primary cause for withdrawing from the meeting. This prompted a second surprise inter-Korean summit days later on May 26th, when Moon Jae-in met with Kim Jong-un again on the northern side of the Joint Security Area. The two-hour meeting included discussions on fulfilling commitments from the Panmunjom Declaration and bringing the U.S.-DPRK summit back on track.
June 12 – U.S.-DPRK summit (Singapore)
After receiving a letter from Kim Jong-un delivered by North Korea’s Central Committee Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol at the White House, Trump announced on June 1st that the U.S.-DPRK summit was to proceed as originally planned on June 12th in Singapore. The meeting was the first of its kind between sitting leaders of the two countries. Trump and Kim agreed to a joint statement, which reaffirmed the two countries’ commitment to the earlier Panmunjom Declaration, building a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, establishing new U.S.-DPRK relations for peace, and recovering U.S. POW/MIA remains from North Korea.
June 19-20 – China-DPRK summit (Beijing, China)
A week after the Trump-Kim meeting, Kim traveled to Beijing again to meet with Xi Jinping for the third time in less than three months to brief the Chinese leader on the results of his summit with Trump. Xi expressed his approval of the Singapore summit’s result, saying it was a significant step towards finding a solution for Korea’s denuclearization. Like the previous meetings, both leaders stressed the importance of China-DPRK ties.
September 18-20– Inter-Korean summit (Pyongyang, North Korea)
Moon Jae-in flew to Pyongyang on September 18th to meet Kim Jong-un for the third inter-Korean summit between the two leaders. The three-day long summit included Moon’s address to a crowd of 150,000 North Koreans at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, a visit to the symbolically important Mount Paektu, and the agreement to the Pyongyang Joint Declaration. The agreement included working to end hostilities along the DMZ, developing joint economic projects like integrating the peninsula’s rail systems, and further dismantlement by North Korea of weapons test sites. Kim also agreed to visit South Korea by the end of the year, which would be the first instance of a North Korean leader visiting South Korea. Despite time fast running out in 2018, details have yet to be confirmed regarding his potential visit.
Within a year’s time, Kim’s diplomatic engagement has dramatically altered the state of peninsula affairs. The summits have opened up new opportunities that seemed extremely improbable a year ago, though looking ahead the road to denuclearization likely remains a long and difficult one. Kim’s true intentions for his recent engagement in summit diplomacy are hotly debated, and probably really only known by the Chairman himself. Regardless of his level of sincerity in the diplomatic process, he has shown continued openness to talks, with talks of an imminent fourth summit with Moon Jae-in on the horizon and rumors swirling of another US-DPRK summit in early 2019.
Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Graphics by Juni Kim.
Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.