See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Opinion

A new Kim?

North Korean leader manifests differences from predecessors, but world must remain wary.


Written by

Updated: June 14, 2018

The denuclearization agreement signed by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — despite criticisms that it lacks details and a timeline — has many implications besides the start of work to remove nukes from the hands of a young dictator who once threatened a nuclear strike on the world’s most powerful country.

Most of all, the historic accord that calls for the formation of relations between the two countries and establishment of a “lasting and stable” peace regime also means the work to dismantle the last legacy of the Cold War has started.

Three major players — Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who brokered the Singapore summit — are all credited for the mega shift of the situation that once stoked fears of war over the North Korean nuclear crisis.

One thing that went wrong is Trump’s bombshell statement that the US will be stopping South Korea-US joint military exercises, citing its provocativeness and the “tremendous expense” spent by the US military. That is further evidence that Trump is prioritizing his notorious “America First” policy even when working with a close ally on such a crucial security issue.

On his part, it has yet to be seen whether Kim will fulfill his commitment to denuclearization, but there have been signs he may follow a diverging path from his predecessors. Indeed, the Swiss-educated Kim is different from his grandfather and father in many respects, not least in the way he interacts with the outside world.

Of course, Kim’s primary concern is securing security assurance for his dynastic regime and international recognition of his country as a normal state. He wants to be seen — as Trump said — as a smart, talented leader, not the young, ruthless dictator of the world’s most isolated country.

The Singapore summit was a good stage for his such endeavors. Whatever Kim said and did — including his talk, lunch and walk with the leader of the world’s most powerful country — put Kim into the global spotlight.

Such a scene would have been unimaginable for his grandfather and the North’s founding president Kim Il-sung and father Kim Jong-il. Secrecy and seclusion were the norm during the senior Kims’ days: They rarely traveled beyond their communist allies of the former Soviet Union and China.

Kim’s accommodation of openness is clear in the economy. Since taking power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim has adopted elements of a market economy, including incentives and special economic zones. One of his top priorities is to develop the North Korean economy, whose gross domestic product remained at $31 billion in 2016, ranking No. 113 in the world, compared to the South’s $1.54 trillion, for No. 11 in the world.

It was against this backdrop that during his recent visit to China he expressed his desire to learn the reform and openness policy of China, which was initiated by Deng Xiaoping 40 years ago. While touring landmark sites in Singapore on the eve of the meeting with Trump, he also said his country wanted to learn about the social and economic development of the city-state.

So is the Kim who the world saw in Singapore different from his grandfather and father who built up a totalitarian state? Has he changed from a man who once stoked fears of a nuclear war, ordered the brutal executions of senior officials, including a close relative, and the assassination of his half brother?

Kim said in talks with Trump that he could come to Singapore “by overcoming wrong prejudices and practices that had been covering our eyes and ears” and that “the world will see a great change.”

The world will get to know whether he is sincere about his commitment to change through follow-up denuclearization talks. The changes, of course, should include real improvements in inter-Korean relations and the North’s human rights conditions.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Opinion

Taiwan becomes first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage

The legislation was passed on Friday. Taiwan made history on May 17 as the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, after most lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voted to pass a Cabinet-sponsored bill that gives gay couples the right to get married. The bill, titled Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748, cleared the legislative floor at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. The new law will take effect May 24, allowing two persons of the same gender, aged 18 or older, to register a marriage, with at least two witnesses signing the registration document. Either partner in the marriage will be allowed to adopt the biological children of the other, under the law. However, non-biological children who had been adopted by one partner before the marriage cannot be adopted by the other partner, it states. The New Power Party (NPP) caucus had submitted a motion


By ANN Members
May 19, 2019

Diplomacy, Opinion

Can Pakistan play a role in Iran-US tensions

An editorial in Dawn newspaper looks at the role that Pakistan might play in the ongoing tensions. Tensions between the US and Iran, particularly in the Gulf, are rising and the situation has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the region. It is in this context that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Tuesday that Pakistan was “closely following the situation” and would take a stand “that best served the national interest”. Pakistan is, of course, in a sensitive position as it has decades-old, deep relations with the US, while it shares a long border with Iran. Moreover, this country’s ties with the Gulf Arabs — particularly the Saudis — who are firmly in the American camp, are also cordial and have a strategic and defence dimension. In case of any hostilities


By Dawn
May 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Opinion

China vows action as US moves to blacklist Huawei

Hopes of a trade deal recede as experts fear American companies could face a backlash. China has slammed the United States for putting technology giant Huawei on an export blacklist and said it will take “all necessary measures” to protect the legal rights of Chinese firms. The latest twist in the face-off between the US and China not only suggests that hopes of a trade deal are fast evaporating, but it could also delay the roll-out of 5G networks worldwide. US technology firms could also face a backlash, experts said. China’s Ministry of Commerce said yesterday that it resolutely opposed any coun


By The Straits Times
May 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Opinion

Beijing stresses equality in trade talks with Washington

World market confidence dampened by escalation, Chinese state media says. Consultations between China and the United States are not a one-way street, and should be conducted amid a spirit of equality, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday in Russia. Wang said that it is pointless for one side to blame the other, or even to absolve themselves from responsibility. Wang stressed if one side is trying to place extreme pressure on the other, it will cause a legitimate counterattack. “The measures from us are not only to safeguard China’s own rights, but to protect the basic rules of the current multilateral trading mechanism,” Wang said. Wang made the remark in a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during his visit to the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi. Experts warned that the rising US tariffs on Ch


By China Daily
May 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Opinion

South Korea jobless rate rises to 4.4% in April

Weak job markets and uncertain macroeconomics have contributed to increased unemployment. South Korea’s jobless rate rose to 4.4 percent in April, government data showed Wednesday, in the latest sign of a weak job market amid an economic slowdown in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The unemployment rate increased 0.3 percentage point from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea. It also marked the highest level for any April since 2000, when the corresponding figure stood at 4.5 percent. The number of employed people reached 27.03 million in April, an increase of 171,000 from the same month in 2018.


By The Korea Herald
May 15, 2019

Diplomacy, Opinion

Beijing vows retaliation on US trade

Ministry expresses ‘deep regrets’ in wake of added tariffs on Chinese goods. The Ministry of Commerce expressed “deep regrets” on Friday at the United States’ move to impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports and vowed to take necessary countermeasures. The comments came shortly after the US increased the rate of additional duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent, a move that economists said amounts to “typical trade bullying” that will backfire to hurt its own interests. The commerce ministry said in a statement that the 11th round of China-US high-level economic and trade consultations are underway, and China hopes the two sides can work together to resolve existing issues cooperatively. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing that a healthy and stable Sino-US relationship serves the


By China Daily
May 13, 2019