Skip to main content
Support

A Historic Handshake

Jean H. Lee

There’s no denying it: This was a historic handshake. It’s the first time the leaders of North Korea and the United States — two countries that remain locked in a state of war -- have held a summit. To see President Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands warmly and chatting so easily was both stunning and chilling.

Trump Kim Summit U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore.

There’s no denying it: This was a historic handshake. It’s the first time the leaders of North Korea and the United States — two countries that remain locked in a state of war — have held a summit. 

To see President Trump and Kim Jong Un shaking hands warmly and chatting so easily was both stunning and chilling. It’s a powerful moment that augers a change in the tense relationship between these two countries. But it also legitimizes the path Kim took to get here: Building and testing illicit nuclear weapons that have the potential to wreak unimaginable destruction.

We’re waiting to see what comes out of the one-on-one meeting between Kim and Trump, and the bilateral meeting between top officials from the two countries.

Regardless, this is a coup for Kim Jong Un, who has the world’s attention for his big live international debut.

The image of Kim shaking hands with Trump, in front of a phalanx of U.S. and North Korean flags, will be stunning for the North Koreans as well. They’ve been raised to fear aggression from the big, bad United States, and to see Kim, leader of their small, poor country, treated as an equal will fill them with a sense of pride as well as boost confidence in Kim. Kim will tell his people: I’ve not only shown you I can defend you but I’m also a masterful diplomat. 

This was by careful design by Kim and his strategists, who long saw 2018 as a year for big accomplishments: it’s the 65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement and the 70th anniversary of the country founded by Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

We may not get the promises on quick and verified denuclearization that we want from the North Koreans. But we must hope that this is the start to a new relationship that will halt the destabilizing string of provocations we’ve seen from North Korea in years past.

 

About the Author

Jean H. Lee

Jean H. Lee

Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy,
Journalist and former Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Associated Press
Read More

Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy

The Center for Korean History and Public Policy was established in 2015 with the generous support of the Hyundai Motor Company and the Korea Foundation to provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and informing the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond.  Read more

Asia Program

The Asia Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more