Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump

  • President Donald Trump accepted Kim Jong Un's offer to meet for talks, which has seen Kim's international prestige skyrocket.

  • China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia all now want closer relations with Pyongyang, because Kim piqued Trump's interest by saying "denuclearization."

  • But denuclearization means something very different to Kim than to the outside world, and it may never come to pass.

  • Meanwhile, he's already reaped the benefits.


When President Donald Trump accepted the offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a move taken without consulting his own state department, he made Kim into the most wanted man in Asia.

This move, ultimately, could be the US's undoing in the Pacific.

Since then, China has buried considerable ill feelings towards Kim and had him over for a lavish summit with its president, Xi Jinping.

On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae In confirmed he would meet with Kim on April 27 in the DMZ. Now the leaders of Japan and Russia want to sit down with Kim too.

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Kim's diplomatic coming out, which began after South Korea's Winter Olympics, follows a year of furious missile testing and a thermonuclear detonation in North Korea.

In November 2017, Pyongyang declared its ICBM program complete, presenting a major threat to the US.

In that light, Kim's planned tour of powers in the Pacific looks less like a cowed weakling begging for sanctions relief, and more like the crowning of a new regional power.

The magic word

Kim achieved an exponential leap in international recognition with a simple word, "denuclearization."

Cleverly, North Korea has couched talk of dismantling its nukes under a mountain of caveats, but makes sure to reiterate the word in each new meeting.

The US's has always kept denuclearization as a precondition for talking with North Korea. But because the world has wildly different meanings on either side of the Pacific, making it an arbitrary barrier.

When North Korea talks of denuclearization, they say it's possible if the US ends its "hostile policy" towards North Korea. This includes sanctions, military drills, and US forces stationed near its border with South Korea. All three of those activities are legal and welcomed by South Korea. Kim's nuclear and ballistic missile programs are not.

It's unclear if the US could accept the conditions set forth by North Korea, but Kim has already reaped the benefits.

By saying the magic word, Kim passed Trump's thresholds for talks, and Trump accepted. Because Trump accepted the talks, China may have feared it would be sidelined, and set up its own talks.

Because Japan fears the US may simply negotiate away North Korea's long-range missiles, leaving them vulnerable to the shorter range missiles, Japan now wants talks too.

In that way, Kim has promised little and gained much.

North Korea has a GDP smaller than Malta's. Its military, without nuclear weapons behind it, is dated and second-rate. But with nuclear weapons in his pocket, Kim now has the world hanging on his every word.

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