What Went Wrong With North Korea Peace Efforts?

South Korean president, Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un take a walk after planting a commemorative tree in the Peace House building at the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea on April 27, 2018.
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

What Went Wrong With North Korea Peace Efforts?

China poses ‘a threat many times greater’ than North Korea—and benefits from North Korea’s unpredictability.

What went wrong with North Korea?

Just a month ago, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un crossed into South Korea, marking the first time any North Korean leader has done so for as long as the two have existed as separate countries. He agreed to formally end the Korean War by the end of the year, and he committed to “complete denuclearization” of his nation with no strings attached. He requested a meeting with United States President Donald Trump about reforming North Korea and released some U.S. prisoners as a sign of goodwill.

It looked like a real change was underway. It looked like Kim was truly committed to peace.

But then, within a few weeks, Kim began behaving like a North Korean leader once again.

He withdrew from a planned follow-up meeting with South Korea, insulted the U.S. leadership, and threatened a “nuclear showdown” with America. He did apparently go ahead with plans to collapse parts of the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, but the move was neither irreversible nor was it denuclearization.

What had looked only weeks earlier like a remarkable achievement of U.S. diplomacy suddenly looked mostly like business as usual for North Korea. President Trump responded on May 24 by canceling his planned summit with Kim, citing the dictator’s “tremendous anger and open hostility.”

Why the stark turnaround from Kim Jong-un?

Kim said the reason he withdrew from this week’s meeting with the South was because of the Max Thunder 2018 joint U.S.-South Korea air force exercises that were underway. But back in April, when Kim seemed devoted to peace, the U.S. and South Korea held two other annual joint military events: Foal Eagle and Key Resolve. Kim issued no objection to these, and they did not hinder his visit to the South at that time. Max Thunder 2018 is only an extension of those two previous exercises, scheduled and announced well in advance.

The true reason for Kim’s regression to the norm is China.

It’s important to remember that back on March 25—before Kim’s outreach to South Korea and the United States—he made a surprise visit to China. This was his first foreign trip since assuming power in 2011. It was only after that historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping that Kim began reaching out to America and South Korea with offers of peace.

Analysts believed at the time that Xi—largely as a result of American insistence—had encouraged Kim to make reforms. It seemed that Xi was rattled by Trump’s threats of trade war and willing to revoke his backing of the lunatic in North Korea in hopes of clinching a favorable trade deal with Washington.

But what if China never intended for Kim to follow through on his promises of peace?

On May 7, just before Kim began retracting all those olive branches he had offered, he traveled to China for a second time and met with Xi again.

If Xi does not feel genuinely threatened by the U.S. leadership, he may be in no hurry to truly withdraw support of the Kim regime. He may be inclined instead to prolong the ambiguity and confusion, and to use North Korea’s oscillations between charm and threats to distract the Trump administration for as long as possible. Such diversions could allow Xi to cement his hold on the South China Sea, and to delay America’s imposition of trade tariffs on China for several months.

America’s midterm election is only five months away, and politicians who oppose Trump’s protectionist efforts may win control of the legislature. So buying time in this way could be of great value for Xi Jinping.

Shortly after canceling the summit, President Trump said it could still take place if the North takes unspecified “constructive steps.” And it very well may still happen. But a vast gulf remains between the U.S.’s and the North’s stances on the latter’s nuclear program. And whether or not Kim takes those “constructive steps” will likely ultimately be decided in Beijing.

Back in the August 2009 issue of the Trumpet, columnist Brad Macdonald explained the core reasons why China goes to so much trouble to keep rogue North Korea afloat:

China’s leaders support Kim Jong-il’s regime because a rogue North Korea serves China’s ambitions, both within the region and in the global arena! First, the existence of an unpredictable, highly volatile nuclear aspirant is a distraction to China’s competitors in the region. … But the ultimate and most worrying reason Beijing sustains North Korea is that Kim Jong-il’s ideologies and ambitions align perfectly with China’s top global priority: undermining the United States! … China considers Pyongyang a tool with which it can challenge the U.S.

On Sept. 13, 2017, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said the world should be considerably more concerned about Russia and China than about North Korea because those two nations are the ones that enable the Kim regime’s duplicity and belligerence. He wrote:

The Bible’s prophecies show that, in a sense, the North Korea crisis is a massive distraction from the real threat posed by China and Russia. These powerful Asian nations are the only reason North Korea is able to operate so freely. And Bible prophecy shows that they pose a threat many times greater than the one from North Korea! Nevertheless, nuclear technology from North Korea could still play a major role in events during the time ahead ….

The prophecies Mr. Flurry referred to are recorded in Ezekiel 38 and 39, Daniel 11 and in the book of Revelation. These Bible passages show that, in the end time, Russia will lead a staggeringly mighty military confederacy, with China in a secondary leadership role. Less powerful Asian countries, such as North Korea and likely South Korea as well, will throw their power behind this Russian-led bloc.

Our free booklet Russia and China in Prophecy examines these scriptures to explain where these tensions are leading and the hope and inspiration connected to them. Please order your free copy of this potentially life-changing booklet today.