So much has been said by national experts about this week’s historic meeting between the leaders of America and North Korea. But Florida State University has its own expert who has spent years studying the historic and modern dynamics of Northeast Asia and the politically fractured Korean peninsula.
Annika Culver, associate professor in the FSU Department of History, believed the meeting with President Trump wasn’t only a big prestige boost for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
“He’s shaking the hand of the first sitting U.S. president that has ever agreed to meet with the North Korean leader. It provides a tremendous sense of faith and pride for the North Koreans and even some Koreans themselves are grudgingly admitting that here you have a Korean and he is at the table with the Americans on his own terms,” she observed a few hours after the brief but historic encounter between the two leaders in Singapore.
Certainly Culver acknowledged there are great differences between North and South Korea in terms of the two nations’ economies and political systems. Yet she pointed out there are still similarities.
“Much of South Korean society, even though they’ve been a democracy since the late 1980s, it’s still in many ways quite authoritarian because of security fears.”
Plus, she said, there was the fact that the split between the two Koreas only took place after the fall of the Japanese Empire at the end of World War II. Only the names of the countries exercising dominance over Korea had changed.
“For Koreans in general, there’s always been a sense that they’ve been given the short end of the stick; tossed around by great powers since the 19th Century, Japan and Russia – to some extent the United States in the middle of the 19th Century – and always being a political football and never being able to decide their own fate.”
Now, even though it was an American essentially breaking the ice with the North Korean leader, Culver thought this could possibly lead to better North/South relations over the long haul.
“I know that the North Koreans have really launched a charm offensive towards the South. But I think ultimately it needs to be in their hands and U.S. presidents come and go after 8 years. That’s the longest they can be in power. But Kim is in it for life, so he can be very patient about what happens politically, both in the United States and South Korea.”
Culver compared it to how the end of the U.S./Soviet cold war led to the reunification of Germany.
“The Koreans – both sides of them – being involved in this U.S./Soviet proxy war during the Korean War and of course there hasn’t been an armistice or agreement ending that. But in reality it should be the South and North Koreans that hammer that out because this is their project and it really should be under their agency.”
President Trump’s meeting with Kim this week might merely serve as the possible catalyst, she said, to get that ball rolling.