As the ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s travels are highly regulated and largely limited to the country’s borders. He typically makes public appearances in diplomatic visits to other countries, however, the content of these trips remains largely unknown outside of his inner circle. Although he has been noted in the media for a rare visit to Vietnam in 2019, it is unclear how many other trips he has made outside the country. This article will explore Kim Jong Un’s publicly recorded travels outside of North Korea, as well as potential motives and implications.
Kim Jong Un was first appointed Supreme Leader of North Korea in 2011, after his father, Kim Jong Il, passed away. In the eight years since, he has reinforced North Korea’s presence on the world stage, pursuing diplomatic ties with both other communist states, such as Vietnam and China, as well as countries with more hostile relations. His appearances in the highly choreographed media events which accompany these visits can be used to display domestic authority and influence global opinion of the country. They can also open the possibility of trade or arms deals and improved diplomatic relations.
In 2018, Kim Jong Un visited China three times, and also made stops in Singapore and Malaysia. The following year he visited a number of countries in Asia and Europe, including Vietnam and the Republic of Azerbaijan. However, these visits mostly received little attention as none of them resulted in any high-profile deals or advancements in diplomatic ties. This may be due to their purpose being to simply establish a presence on the world stage and demonstrate Kim’s authority.
The most high-profile of Kim Jong Un’s trips is undoubtedly his 2018 summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. In a highly publicized event, the two nations reached a package of agreements, including the reopening of a military hotline, the suspension of hostile acts in the Demilitarized Zone, and the further promotion of inter-Korean dialogue. The meeting also gained international attention, setting the stage for the historic summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Singapore.
While Kim Jong Un’s visits to other countries show a commitment to diplomacy, they also come with potential risks. North Korea has been repeatedly sanctioned by the international community and portrayed as a totalitarian regime. Nonetheless, Kim Jong Un is keen to cultivate a positive image abroad. To this end, he has generally kept his excursions discreet, largely limiting his attendance to official state business and avoiding any public accolades or speeches. This allows him to control the message of his visits and maintain the secretive nature of his regime.
By analyzing publicly available information, it is clear that Kim Jong Un has made a number of trips outside of North Korea during his time as leader. These visits have served to boost his own authority and prestige within the country, as well as forged links with other nations. Such trips are potentially risky but may also open the possibility for diplomatic success, as demonstrated by the inter-Korean summits in 2018.
Potential International Support for North Korea
It is possible that Kim Jong Un is being encouraged by other nations on his trips. The Chinese and Japanese Governments have both extended invitations to North Korean officials, suggesting that they are interested in building diplomatic ties. China, in particular, plays a significant role in North Korea’s affairs, and recent trips may be part of a larger strategy to support the North Korean leadership. However, any foreign support has its limits, and without significant progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it is unlikely that Kim Jong Un’s trips will have lasting diplomatic implications.
Potential United Nations Action
Although Kim Jong Un has not faced any penalties for his trips, the United Nations has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of North Korea’s nuclear policies. In August 2018, the UN imposed a new round of sanctions as a response to North Korea’s recent missile tests. These sanctions are designed to restrict the North Korean government’s access to international banking and finance, as well as to impose a crackdown on smuggling vessels. Therefore, the United Nations has shown that it is willing to use the leverage of sanctions to pressure North Korea, and any actions by Kim Jong Un outside the country may be met with further consequences.
Possible Economic Consequences
Any visits outside of North Korea may have economic implications for the country. Kim Jong Un brings senior officials from the ruling elite with him on his trips, and these individuals use the opportunity to develop economic ties with foreign entities. Trade in weapons and luxury goods is a particular area of focus and many of Kim Jong Un’s trips are used to develop new commercial opportunities. Such private deals are benefiting the ruling elite, but have limited economic benefit for the population as a whole.
Kim Jong Un’s excursions are undoubtedly a statement of the North Korean regime’s resilience and authority. His presence in foreign countries sends a powerful message of North Korea’s presence and standing in the international community. Nonetheless, any attempts at diplomacy will inevitably face obstacles, with South Korea and the United States both highly unlikely to acknowledge North Korea as an equal partner. Consequently, while there may be some uncertainty surrounding Kim Jong Un’s trips, the geopolitical implications remain largely unchanged.