By Vernon Brewer
If you’ve been following the news about Korea lately, then you’ve rubbed your eyes and pinched your skin more than once to verify that what you’re watching on TV is actually real.
I know I did this morning when I saw the three Americans freed by North Korea step out of the airplane and into U.S. soil — one of them for the first time in nearly 950 days. I did again shortly later when I read President Trump announced he is meeting with North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore next month. It will be the first ever meeting between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
And just a few weeks ago, the world collectively rubbed its eyes as it watched another first: Kim himself setting foot into South Korea. No North Korean leader had crossed the military demarcation line dividing the Korean people since the Korean War — nearly 70 years ago.
The global reaction was captured in a media center not far from the DMZ, where a crowd of 2,000 journalists let out an audible gasp as they saw President Moon Jae-in welcoming Kim into South Korea.
In fact, it seems like we’re barely able to keep up with the news coming out of Korea. Everything about the quickly unfolding peace talks seems surreal.
Only five months ago, North Korea was testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting New York City, Los Angeles and every city in between with a nuclear warhead. Now, we see pictures of a smiling Kim posing with Presidents Moon of South Korea and Xi Jinping of China.
As someone who has traveled inside North Korea and spent more than a decade providing resources for the Korean people, I’m greatly encouraged to see peace might actually be within reach. Yet, for as hopeful as it all may seem, we cannot let smiles and handshakes fool us. There are countless people still suffering inside North Korea. They’re the ones who pay the ultimate price for the outcome of these negotiations.
An estimated 18 million people in North Korea depend on the state’s Public Distribution System rations of potatoes and cereals, according to a 2017 United Nations report. These rations amount to less than a pound a day per person. Additionally, 10.5 million — two in five North Koreans — are undernourished, putting children especially at risk.