Hype and hope from the Trump-Kim summit
Now that the first excitement died down a little, how do we evaluate the Trump-Kim summit? What gains can be made for the kingdom? What are the risks? These are some personal thoughts, as someone who has lived and worked in the region for many years.
Firstly, as Christians we never should get so caught up in the politics of it all, that we forget that God works behind the scenes too. Or to put it in a different way, the political stage is only one stage, but much more is going on outside of the media spotlight, which is just as important. Unless God builds the house, the labourers work in vain. And the house that God is building in North Korea is not being built by Trump or Kim. But God uses whom he pleases to accomplish his purposes, which are bigger than denuclearisation.
So, although there have been exiting developments, it is up to us to place them in the wider context and discern what God may be doing, as well as counterbalancing any undue hype with reality and any undue pessimism with hope.
What could be hype? Personally, I feel that it would be premature to think Kim Jong Un has suddenly developed a real concern for the well-being of his people, as some claim he has. So far there is no indication that Kim prioritizes his people over his own desire to control and stay in power. His people’s misery only seems to affect him in so far as it endangers the continuation of his power. Reports that even the elite were not getting their monthly food allowances, could be an indication that Kim really had to engage the world, because he depends on the support of the elite. But if Kim has a real change of heart, we will know by seeing oppression and persecution reduced, prisoners being freed and corruption being dealt with. Other indications of a real moral change may be more truth in North Korea’s media, a disappearance of the Kim dynasty cult and people no longer being actively taught to hate and kill Americans.
However, even a deeply immoral leader can affect positive changes if forced by circumstances. And there is a nugget of hope. If Kim sees himself forced into economic cooperation with the United States, that could both improve the lives of ordinary people, as well as provide new avenues for mission work. You can keep control over a limited number of foreigners in your country. But if the numbers are increasing, there will be things that go unnoticed. And these things could be very good things, such as foreign believers being able to encourage and resource the North Korean church. This is happening on a small scale already, but could become easier if there are more interactions.
Another hype around this summit in my opinion is how it has fuelled the expectation of an imminent denuclearisation and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. We must remember that deals with North Korea have been made before and have looked very promising before. North Korea is known for playing their game, doing just enough to get what they want, such as sanctions relief and international recognition, and then go back to their old ways. It would not surprise me in the least if none of the expressed intentions of North Korea are going to be made reality. Besides, even just expressing these intentions has landed them so much goodwill and a better standing with China, that it may prove hardly necessary to follow through.
However, even if Kim is just playing the old games, it may be that in engaging the US he is -perhaps unintentionally- releasing new expectations and realisations among his people that will be hard to put back in the box once they are out. One of the things that keeps the Kim regime in power is the propaganda induced conviction of his people that the US is full of devils at the verge of barging in and destroying their country. Engaging the US in the way Kim has done, has the risk that people realise there is a world out there that wants to have normal relations with them and even has an interest in their welfare. The enemy mentality that has sustained support in the military first policy and that has kept people in fear and anger, could be weakened by this.
Overall, I think the way the US (and South Korea) is engaging North Korea is very risky. Also, I think so far, Kim has gained much more than Trump or Moon has. If it was a game, he has more points. But the game has risks for the Kim regime as well. And it has often been the small cracks through which unexpected change has come. We hope and we pray.
Contributing Author: Kajsa