NORTH KOREA’S CELEBRATIONS EMPHASISE ECONOMY OVER MILITARY
By Donnelly McCleland
Kim Jong-un presided over a tempered military parade on Sunday [9 September], in the latest sign that he wants to revive stalled nuclear talks with the US as he pushes for North Korea to re-join the international community. Mr Kim marked the 70th anniversary of his grandfather’s regime without showing off provocative hardware such as long-range ballistic missiles that would likely have irked President Donald Trump, who said in June that North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat”. Mr Trump praised Kim for the parade’s focus on growth and the reported lack of nuclear weapons, calling it a “big and very positive statement from North Korea” and taking credit for his efforts. (Time Magazine)
Why talks have stalled
Despite Mr Trump and Mr Kim’s historic summit in Singapore on 12 June, at which both leaders pledged to work towards a denuclearised and peaceful peninsula, there has been very little in terms of tangible results. Patience on both sides seems to be wearing thin and any substantial progress toward denuclearisation seems to have stalled. In late August, the US president publicly acknowledged for the first time that discussions weren’t going according to plan, when he cancelled a trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The North Korean state media responded by accusing the US of “double-dealing attitudes” and returning to “gunboat diplomacy”.
It appears that one of the primary sticking points is how the Singapore declaration should be realised. The four key provisions of the declaration are: new relations between the two nations (normalisation of diplomacy), a peace regime (the 1950-53 Korean War did not end with a formal peace treaty), denuclearisation (North Korea giving up their nuclear weapons – though they may see it as also including no more nuclear-capable US bombers and submarines in the area) and the return of fallen US soldiers’ remains. The US maintains that they require concrete steps from North Korea in the denuclearisation process before moving forward with any of the other provisions, whereas North Korea views it as a process in which various facets of all four provisions can be implemented simultaneously.
North Korea’s recent parade to celebrate their 70th anniversary was a clear affirmation of Mr Kim’s commitment to denuclearisation and economic upliftment. Unlike previous years, there were no inter-continental missiles on display and no nuclear tests to mark the holiday. Prior to the Singapore summit, Mr Kim had already followed through on pledges to refrain from weapons testing and to dismantle testing facilities. In July, North Korea began the repatriation of US war remains (of about 55 soldiers).
As a goodwill gesture, Mr Trump halted joint US-South Korean military exercises, which the North has insisted for years was a prelude to war or invasion. Whatever personal rapport Mr Trump built with Mr Kim, it appears to still be intact. Last week, via a South Korean diplomat, Mr Kim said his faith in Mr Trump was “unchanged” and that he has set their first real deadline for negotiations to be completed “before the end of Trump’s first term of office” (early in 2021). Mr Trump tweeted in response: “Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
“The North Koreans just want to be shown respect and other administrations brushed them off like they were nothing,” said Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham) in a recent interview with CBN News. Franklin Graham has a rich family history in North Korea: his mother, Ruth, attended high school in Pyongyang in the 1930s, while his father, Billy Graham, visited the communist country in 1992 and 1994. Franklin Graham has himself made four humanitarian trips to North Korea while leading Samaritan’s Purse in a range of campaigns to help the North Korean people.
This engagement has led Graham to speak directly with President Trump on several occasions about North Korea, just as his father did before him to numerous former presidents. “I think the North Koreans have been wanting to talk to the Americans for a long time and this is the first administration that they’ve been able to talk to directly like this,” explained Franklin Graham.
During Billy Graham’s visit in 1994, he had opportunity to address the students and faculty of the Kim Il-sung University. In his address, he explained: “When we come to know Christ by committing our lives to Him, God comes into our lives and begins to change us from within. And when we are changed from within, we become concerned about the problems of our world and we want to do something about them. That is why I believe true religion has a legitimate place in modern society and why I believe Christ has a message for the people of [North Korea].” He continued, “In my experience in many countries, Christians – although often a minority – make good citizens and have a positive effect on their societies.”
In June 2018, Franklin Graham echoed his father’s words when he told CBN News: “I want the communist government to know that Christians are not their enemies. They have the potential of being the very best citizens in the country because God commands all of us to pray for those that are in authority.”
Mr Trump’s bold step towards engagement with North Korea was largely enabled by the efforts of many before him (including the Graham family) who have planted seeds of peace and extended hands of friendship, rather than weapons of condemnation. It would be a travesty and perceived as a deep betrayal should the US backtrack now. Every effort needs to be made (on both sides) to overcome the misunderstandings and every courageous step must to be taken if we are to see the promise of peace fulfilled.
- For the two countries’ leadership to earnestly seek resolution to misunderstandings
- For both countries to make meaningful concessions in order to ensure peace
- For believers to continue leading the way in engaging with North Koreans