Local Korean residents have reacted with disbelief and hope at the prospect of a reunified Korea and peace on the peninsula following the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
By the time Eunsoo Choi entered her Uber, the clock had already struck 6 p.m. and the unprecedented meeting between a sitting American President and a North Korean leader had begun.
Choi, 25, of Seattle, immediately put her headphones on and tuned into YouTube live coverage of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un at the summit held Tuesday in Singapore.
“I could not believe my eyes. My mother said the same thing,” Choi recalled.
The historic summit left some Koreans in the Seattle area hopeful that the move was an important step toward peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula. Others are skeptical.
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Daniel Pak, a pastor at Korean Peace Presbyterian Church in Seattle, said his church is praying that everything works out. “When I saw it on TV, I was very proud of President Trump,” Pak said.
Having seen the restriction of freedoms and rights during a visit to North Korea in 2015, Cheryl Lee, founding director of the Korean American Coalition of Washington, said she didn’t think this day would ever come and that she is “incredibly hopeful.”
“Things cannot happen soon enough,” she said, adding that she’d like to see the leaders establish a long-term strategy.
Lee notes that some older Korean Americans such as her mother are less optimistic, as they have memories of the Korean War ingrained in them. “My mom and some of her friends said, ‘It’s great, but can you trust them?'”
The summit was held amid mounting tensions between Washington, D.C., and Pyongyang. Trump had canceled the summit last month, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” from North Korea, but then moved ahead with the meeting.
Kim and Trump signed a joint statement in which North Korea promised the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in exchange for “security guarantees” from the United States. This statement — less than 400 words long — did not provide details about how North Korea would address the United States’ requests for “verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization.
Trump also announced that he was suspending military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. Upon his return to the U.S., Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
Young Park, a retired economics professor who immigrated to the United States five decades ago and now lives in Bellevue, said he does not believe the meeting will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“I’m basically very skeptical about any agreement Trump says he made with North Korea,” Park said. “There are so many unknowns.”
Even so, Park believes the meeting offers a sliver of hope. “The only hope is that Kim Jong Un is a young man, and he might make a rash and dramatic decision for unification.”
David Jang, a senior at the University of Washington, believes the summit was “a big step forward.” His parents immigrated from Korea, and Jang is uncertain whether the two world leaders will keep their promises.
“These things could change in the next few weeks,” he said.
“I’m probably as hopeful as the next person — Korean American or not — that there’s no escalation of nuclear arms,” Jang said.
Beyond the security realm, Joomi Kim, executive director of the Korean Community Service Center in Edmonds, said she is thinking through how this renewed relationship between the United States and North Korea will impact South Korea in economic terms.
“At face value, everything looks hunky-dory,” Kim said. “How is the United States going to deal with South Korea if North Korea opens its doors for McDonald’s or Coca-Cola?”
On the other hand, Choi, the Uber passenger, has focused on what the summit means for family reunification.
Her grandfather was separated from his family during the Korean War, Choi said. His loss motivated her to get involved with Divided Families USA, an organization that aims to reunite Korean Americans with their relatives in North Korea.
North Korea and South Korea have been divided since 1945. U.S.-backed South Korea and the Communist Chinese-backed North engaged in a bloody three-year conflict fought to a standstill in 1953. South Korea remains one of America’s strongest allies in Asia, while North Korea has operated under a brutal regime that has been a threat to peace in the region.
Choi said she has worked with many Korean Americans who are doubtful that a successful reunion is possible. She hopes that the summit will renew hope for these older Korean Americans.
“We dream of a future where all Koreans can live together in harmony and where families are reunited and hopes are reborn,” Choi recited, quoting from Trump’s press conference speech.