Ever since the winter Olympics when the two Koreas took flamethrowers to their chilled and strained relationship, a diplomatic firestorm has been raging in East Asia–and that is not necessarily a bad thing. With an inter-Korea summit and Trump-Kim summit on the rise, the region has been a flurry of wild political activity. But how did this all unfold and what does it mean to and for the countries involved? In this, I try to explain.
March 5th. Kim Jong-un hosted a dinner for a South Korean delegation. They were to discuss denuclearization and pave the way for US-DPRK talks.
She was hitting the soju hard and he was just buzzed enough to enjoy himself. He refused to drink excessively around others; when your enemies were ready to pounce at any moment, you could not afford to lose control of your senses because you might not live to see another day.
He handed his sister a letter as they both laughed at a joke that wouldn’t have been funny any other day of the year.
South Korea grabbed it. “What’s this shit?” she asked with slurred words.
“Give it to the United States,” he said. “He’ll know what to do with it.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” America asked, turning the envelope over in his hands.
“That’s the letter,” South Korea said, “the one he gave me after dinner.”
“You didn’t say you had a letter, you just said you had a message.”
“I was stupid drunk when I called you.”
“Is this safe?”
“Is it safe? No, it’s loaded with anthrax. Just open it.” He did so, and just for a little dramatic flair, she added, “It’s a big deal.”
When his eyes started scanning the print, getting wider and wider as they went on, she grinned. “You tell me.”
March 8th. United States president Donald Trump agrees to the possibility of meeting face-to-face with Kim Jong-un. Even though he said during his campaign that he’d be willing to do this, it’s the sheer suddenness of it that shocks everyone. No sitting US president has ever met with a leader of North Korea.
It was like a bolt from the blue.
China was in the bedroom watching baby animal videos and burning enough incense to kill a person with allergies. Then his notifications went wild. A premature stress headache found its way between his eyes.
He didn’t have to scroll down his dashboard for long before he saw something terribly ominous. A tweet from South Korea that had been retweeted to hell and back.
“Big news” was all she’d said, and underneath those words was a brief video. China clicked the play button and as the seconds ticked by, he felt years being shaved off his life.
“Recently, my brother has expressed eagerness to meet with America in-person for official diplomatic talks as soon as possible. America is, in his own words, ‘totally cool with it.'”
From behind her, and rather in the background, almost like an extra who accidentally stumbled into a movie set, America flashed the camera a thumbs up.
When the video stopped, he tossed the iPad onto the bed; the screen cracked, but he didn’t care because an anger was swelling in him. North Korea always knew the right buttons to push, knew that China hated being taken by surprise, being left out, losing control.
China leaned into one of the incense burners and breathed in deeply, holding a good, steady, in-take for well over five seconds. When his senses were filled with lavender, he dialed his favorite number.
North Korea had been sitting at his desk and staring down at his phone for the past twenty minutes. When it finally started buzzing and a picture of a serpent filled the screen, he grinned. He kept grinning as he let the phone ring. Five more times. Then he answered without saying a word.
“Korea,” China’s voice came through, “do you have a moment?”
March 28th. It’s been confirmed that Kim Jong-un made a surprise visit to China to meet Xi Jinping ahead of the suggested Trump-Kim summit. This was one hell of a curveball.
“I’m feeling pretty great,” America told Russia, the only person who still kind of respected him. He was on the couch, hadn’t even bothered to put his suit jacket back on, and watching the news go on and on about his diplomatic prowess. “Like I’m batting 10 for 10, y’know?”
Russia nodded and smiled as she continued to “play the Sims” on his computer.
“If I meet with North Korea before, let’s say, the end of May, I’m going to accomplish something I’ve never been able to accomplish before. You know what this means, right? This could be the start of the end of the Korean War. I’ll be a hero, and it’s all thanks to my deal-making genius. I mean, I’ve got it all figured out. Everyone else must be so stupid that they don’t get it–you just threaten to kill someone until they do what you want them to do.”
“Oh, I get it,” Russia said.
“What’s about to happen is ground-breaking, record-setting, monumental…”
America’s voice trailed off when a BREAKING NEWS alert started flashing on the screen. North Korea makes a surprise visit to China! This is the first country he’s visited on official diplomatic business in years! This is truly ground-breaking!
America ran a hand through his hair and fell back against the couch. “Aww, those sneaky sons of bitches. Of course, he’s going to run to China–who I’m about to start a trade war with, by the way–before he meets with me. Daddy’s probably giving him a big lecture on what he can and can’t say and do when it’s my turn.”
The room filled with Russia’s laughter. “North Korea did the same thing to me in the ’60s! Every time I would give him what he wanted so I could win or keep his favor, he’d wave it around in China’s face. Of course, China would then give him even more than I had, because China and I hated the thought of losing an ally to the other. Such a shrewd boy…” She smiled. “I raised him well, didn’t I?”
“One of the many reasons I don’t trust commies.” America sighed. “This just gives him an advantage over me, makes it harder to get the deal I want.”
Russia ejected her flash drive, which, for no particular reason, looked in such a way that it could easily be mistaken for a tube of lipstick. She walked over to America and gave his shoulder a squeeze–perhaps a harder squeeze than he was expecting.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “you have that sort of thing down to an art, right?”
Present day. Of the five other main players in the North Korea nuclear crisis, one has already met Kim; one is set to meet Kim in April; one might meet Kim in May; one, feeling left out, desperately wants to meet Kim; the final is leaving the door open. It’s clear which countries Kim Jong-un, now the most sought-after man in East Asia, wants to play ball with and which countries are left sitting on the bench. But nobody wants to be sitting on the bench, especially not when the game is about WMDs.
Japan slammed her head against the wall. She didn’t care about the blood trickling down from her forehead because the impact helped to clear her mind. Spreading her feet, she threw her weight into a punch that hit the air.
“Get it together, Japan,” she said with a subtle edge to her usually cool tone. She punched again, with the other fist. “You’re losing control, get a grip.” Punch! “You’re on the outside. You’re alone, isolated, boxed out.” Punch! “It’s only going to get worse from here.” Punch! “Get back in the game or get left behind.”
When she finished air boxing she started taking deep breaths in and out to calm down. In… Out… In… Out…
That’s it, she thought. I know how I’m going to handle this.
She got on her bed, sitting with her legs tucked under her, leaned forward, and then proceeded roll herself into a big blanket-ball as she started groaning into the void.
“I’m used to this sort of attention,” North Korea explained. “People have been captivated by me my entire life. If it wasn’t my communist resolve, it was my undeniable charm and beauty.”
“Of course, Great DPRK.”
“It’s fun to watch them scramble. Everyone wants my time and they’re clawing at each other to get it. China was begging me to let him in on the action–you know that I love it when he begs. And Japan, she was devastated when America threw himself at me without so much as giving her a whisper.”
“You are a diplomatic mastermind, Great One.”
“I will admit that it does feel good to be at the center of the world again, even if the road leading us here was unpleasant. As you know, Alejandro, I don’t like causing problems for people.”
“No, of course not.”
“It actually pains me greatly to hurt others.”
“You’re such a merciful god.”
“And you’re such a good puppet.”
“Please, Prosperous and Powerful Korea… Your words… They penetrate my heart… I’m quivering…”
When the phone clicked, Alejandro fell back into his bed. He lay there, grinning up at the ceiling stupidly as he clutched his phone to his chest and started to daydream. After a while he sprung back up and started to draft a text:
Dennis, thank you so much for your advice. I think I’m finally getting somewhere with him! ❤️❤️❤️ I’ll keep you posted, comrade. Here’s to hoping…….. 👀 👅 💦
If you’re wondering who Alejandro is, well…. look no further.
Going forward, there’s a lot at stake in this game of diplomatic poker. Is a Abe-Kim or Putin-Kim summit just a fantasy? What will be the outcome of a Trump-Kim summit, if it even happens at all? Will we get a peace treaty ending the Korean War, denuclearization, a continuation of the status quo? How will the Moon-Kim summit shape diplomacy on Korean Peninsula? And just how much control will China have, or not have, in this situation?
These next few months will be interesting. There is a growing number of people who are very pessimistic and skeptical of the Trump-Kim summit. I understand that completely, but I prefer to stay optimistic. How about you?