Is rapprochement between North Korea and the United States realistic?

Members of Kent County’s Korean community appear cautiously optimistic about ending the belligerence between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

President Donald Trump met a little more than a week ago with Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of North Korea, as the DPRK otherwise is known. While some feel little was accomplished at the June 12 Singapore summit, some Koreans living in central Delaware feel Trump’s outreach is a good first attempt.

But many are wary of Kim, who has been known to abruptly change his mind and break his promises.

More freedom needed

Korea-born Haeng Wiest of Dover keeps informed on her homeland through satellite-provided news and entertainment channels and the American media. She thinks the rapprochement may bring more liberty to those in the north and may help reunite families separated for 65 years.

“This getting together between the United States and North Korea is an opportunity for freedom in the future, and I’m happy with that,” she said.

 “My personal opinion is that it’s time for them to give up nuclear weapons and to give more freedom to the people of North Korea. They don’t have any freedom there.”

However, Wiest maintains skepticism mixed with hope when it comes to Kim’s ability to follow through. She hopes the current leader is different from his predecessors in power, his father, Kim Jong Il and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who founded the North Korean state.

“Do I trust Kim Jong Un?” she wondered. “I don’t know if I do or not. Maybe he can deal with us. Humans have good sides and bad sides, and maybe he sees things with his own eyes differently from his father and grandfather. I would think maybe it will open his eyes and he will see the whole world differently. Peace will give him a chance to do something better for his country and for his people.”

A credibility problem

The Rev. Daniel Cho, assistant pastor at Dover’s Korean Baptist Church, has a more distant perspective. Born in South Korea, he has lived most of his life in the United States. But he has relatives in the Land of the Morning Calm, and he’s concerned.

“North Korea having nuclear weapons is very nerve-wracking,” Cho said. When he left in the 1970s, the American military presence was everywhere, a fact that gave Koreans a lot of comfort and security.

“If they weren’t there, the conflict might have been more extended,” Cho said. “At the same time, we’d like to see an end to the conflict and see unification. We see what happened in Singapore as progress and one step closer to peace,” Cho said.

Like Wiest, however, the pastor urges caution.

“I don’t think we can trust [Kim],” he said. “He’s got a credibility problem, and not just him but his father and grandfather. But at the same time, we think something is different.”

Trump’s actions have the hallmark of a businessman who knows how to make deals, Cho said. He thinks the president is feeling out how Kim will respond.

“It’s like chess,” Cho said. “You move certain pieces to see the reaction of your opponent and you make sure you’re three or four steps ahead of him to either take advantage or to trap him.”

Trump ‘a very smart guy’

Richard Diehl, who met his wife Sunny Long at work in Dover, thinks Trump’s move toward reconciliation is a good one, even if he’s not entirely comfortable with the president’s methods.

“I like some of the things he’s trying to do, but not how he goes about it,” Diehl said.

He’s skeptical concerning sincerity on the part of both men.

“I hope it works,” he said. “It would be good for everyone. But I don’t know how much I trust either one of them to follow through.”

Diehl definitely does not like one result of the summit.

“I’m not sure if canceling the war games is such a good idea,” he said. “It’s too much of a concession.”

His wife, however, thinks the president knows what he’s doing.

“Trump is a very smart guy, and I think he’s playing with Kim Jung Un.”

Be very careful’

Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert McCoy met his wife, Ok Cha, while serving one of three tours in South Korea.

He said like many military veterans, he is hopeful Kim is serious. But they also don’t quite trust him on claims he will relinquish his nuclear weapons.

“We need to keep a tight hold on him and not trust this denuclearization too much until it’s an absolute thing because of the history involved,” McCoy said. “I think we have to be very careful and be very careful about how fast we do things because there are trust issues. But we like that Trump is going there and trying to do the right thing, to tone down the anxiety. Some people think Trump will get us in trouble, but I think he’s doing a good job by going to the table and at least trying to see what steps can be taken. You have to start somewhere.”

McCoy’s wife agreed. “It’s a good thing,” she said.

But she also thinks the North Korean leader will insist on some sort of insurance when dealing with the American president and his push to get rid of nuclear weapons.

“[Kim] will keep some of them, in my opinion,” she said. “North Korean defectors have said they don’t trust Kim, but Trump is smart enough to know what to do.”