Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RLPB 446. North Korea: A Step in the Right Direction

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 446 | Wed 14 Mar 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

The announcement on 8 March, that US President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, sent shockwaves throughout north-east Asia and left many analysts and pundits around the world reeling. The announcement is the culmination of a month of fast-moving high level diplomacy which included North-South rapprochement during the Winter Olympics (9-25 February). This was followed by a reciprocal visit by a high-level delegation from the South to the North on 5-6 March, which included dinner with Kim Jong-un himself. It was at the 6 March meeting in Pyongyang that the parties agreed to hold an Inter-Korean Summit in April. If it takes place it will be only the third Inter-Korean Summit ever held -- the previous summits being in 2000 and 2007 -- and the first to take place on the south side of the border. Critically, the South Korean delegation in Pyongyang was tasked with delivering an invitation to President Trump from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, requesting they meet for bilateral talks. To the surprise (and even shock) of many, President Trump immediately accepted. If it takes place it will be historic, for it will be the first time a sitting US president has met with the leader of North Korea since the state was established in 1948.

Moon Jae-in and his wife, Kim Jung-suk
escort Moon's mother to a polling
station in Busan, May 2017.
The Korea Herald
Understandably, observers are cautious; some are deeply sceptical; others are derisive. Many are yawning, saying, 'We have been here before.' In reality, however, the strategic situation today is entirely different and the persons involved are entirely new and are beginning, rather than ending, their terms. We have a new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un (35), who, apart from being shrewd and ruthless, is Swiss-educated and a big fan of American basketball and popular culture (meaning he is probably more interested in survival than ideology). We have a new and totally unconventional US president in Donald Trump, inaugurated in January 2017. We also have a new South Korean president, the hugely popular Moon Jae-in (65) -- elected in May -- for whom detente with the North is a priority, essentially because it is personal. Moon's parents fled the North as refugees during the Korean War. He has stated that when peace comes, the first thing he will do is take his 90-year-old mother to visit her home town of Hungnam, an east coastal city 300km north-east of Pyongyang.

As providence would have it, both Presidents Moon and Trump have enacted the same alternating dual-track approach to North Korea: ramping up extreme pressure while intermittently (mostly behind the scenes) offering a way out through dialogue. Portrayed as 'dove' and 'hawk', together they have also made an excellent 'good cop, bad cop' combination. Meanwhile, Kim has advanced his weapons program to the point that the regime now feels relatively secure. Whilst Kim might be willing to talk about denuclearisation, he will not denuclearise [see: RLPB 423 (13 Sep 2017)]. So as not to derail the process, Trump may well settle for a 'temporary' (but in reality indefinite) total freeze, complete with inspections and rigorous monitoring to prevent proliferation. Whilst this would infuriate many in Washington (for whom options seem limited to regime change or bombing), it would create an environment in which the long and arduous process of detente can take place.

click on map to enlarge
With detente would come a vast array of prospects. South Korea is keen to re-engage with the North, in particular to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Park shut down by Moon's predecessor and to resume family reunions. Russia, whose Far East shares a border with North Korea, is also keen to engage, particularly to connect the Trans-Korean railway to the Trans-Siberian railway. Not only would this be huge for north-east Asian trade, but it would also serve as competition to China's Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Russia is also eager to construct a Trans-Korean pipeline to supply natural gas to the peninsula. Enabled by security, these measures could facilitate the North's slow but sure transformation. Most critically, these measures would draw North Korea out of Communist China's sphere of influence and into that of predominantly Christian South Korea, Russia and the US. This would be good news indeed for the Church in North Korea.

For some background and recommended reading see:
North Korea: Reasons for Hope, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 14 March 2018


* sustain and richly bless the long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church in North Korea.

* intervene creatively in the Korean Peninsula, according to his perfect wisdom, in line with his boundless grace, to bring peace, transformation and liberty, to the glory of his name.

* take and use North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as his instruments, for his purpose, in answer to the prayers of many.

'Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.' (Psalm 24:7,9 ESV)


The 8 March announcement that US President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rocked the world. Understandably, observers are cautious; some deeply sceptical; others derisive. Many are pessimistic, insisting we have seen all this before. Yet, in reality, the strategic situation today is entirely different and the persons involved -- North Korea's Kim Jong-un, USA's President Trump and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in -- are all new and are beginning, not ending, their terms. Detente could pave the way for the slow but sure transformation of North Korea. It could also draw North Korea out from the shadow of Communist China and into the sphere of predominantly Christian South Korea, Russia and the USA to the benefit of the Church in North Korea! Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com