North Korea, under current leader Kim Jong-un, has never held a summit with South Korea. That looks set to change on April 27.
Today (March 29) the two sides agreed on that date for their first summit since 2007, and only the third ever; the other occurred in 2000. Kim will meet with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the border village of Panmunjom.
The date was settled upon as officials met today in Panmunjom. They also decided upon April 4 as the date for the next major preparatory meeting, where they will go over issues of security, protocol, and media coverage.
The Kim regime made a hard turn toward diplomacy this year, after a tense 2017 marked by increasingly sophisticated tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and its sixth nuclear test—what it said was a hydrogen bomb. In late November, after a third ICBM launch, Kim declared that his nation had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.” At the time it was easy to take that as mere continued boasting of his nation’s growing weapons capabilities. But it seems to have been a turning point.
About a month later, in his New Year’s speech, Kim made a rare overture to the South, which was preparing to host the Olympics in February. Kim offered to send a delegation and suggested that officials from each side meet soon.
The diplomacy from Pyongyang has only increased since then. This week Kim returned from a surprise visit to Beijing, in which he met with Xi Jinping, even dutifully taking notes as the Chinese president spoke. China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, and paying respects to Xi before solidifying the inter-Korea summit was symbolically important, as were the many photos showing Kim and Xi being cordial. The imagery belied the recent tension between the two nations amid the North’s recent belligerence. China agreed to a variety of UN sanctions against its neighbor last year, reportedly infuriating the Kim regime.
After Kim and Moon meet, a summit will supposedly take place between Kim and Donald Trump in May, although no specific date has been announced. Earlier this month the US president shocked many by abruptly agreeing to meet with Kim, after South Korean officials relayed the apparent invitation from Kim, whom they had recently met in Pyongyang. But Kim has been suspiciously silent, at least in public, about any such meeting.
Meanwhile Japan, which has been left out in the cold amid Pyongyang’s sudden diplomacy, sounded out North Korea about a possible bilateral summit, the Asahi newspaper reported today. In addition to denuclearization, Tokyo wants to discuss the abduction of its citizens by North Korean agents decades ago.
Despite the flurry of diplomatic activity, it still isn’t clear that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear capabilities. The nation has won political and economic concessions in the past by promising to halt development, only to continue with it in secret. In China, Kim agreed to meet with US officials, and he pledged that he’s “committed to denuclearization”—a precondition for talks set out by the Trump administration.
It remains to be seen, though, what he means by that.