As North Korea and the US sit down for talks in Singapore this week, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to visit under normal circumstances in the future, and if so, would I go?
Today, both the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea or DPRK for this post), Kim Jong Un and the President of the United States, Donald Trump arrived in Singapore. For what it’s worth, and this is exclusively an opinion piece so I intend on making as many broad conclusions as I like, I think that every detail has been calculated to the smallest. They both arrived by 747, though this is not Kim Jung Un’s regular ride, there was some speculation as to how he would reach the summit, but his previous transport was more than capable of making the journey. While the talks will be held at the Capella Resort in Sentosa, Kim Jung Un will stay at the St. Regis Singapore.
The two countries, at odds for decades, will have mostly reached an agreement before either of the two leaders stepped foot off the plane. Though both made overtures to canceling the meeting at separate points in time, if they both decided to go to Singapore, Trump directly after leaving G-7 talks you can believe they will find a resolution to the long dispute.
Suspected resolutions are as follows:
- North Korea will cease development of nuclear weapons
- The US and allies will remove sanctions
- There may be a draw-down of forces that the US/South Korea and Japan have built up bordering North Korea
- Independent inspectors will be required to ensure North Korea dismantles their nuclear program
- Diplomatic support will be set up in both countries (Embassies in Pyongyang and Washington DC)
Current Diplomatic Situation
As it currently stands, neither country has an operable embassy in the other country. The Korean War in which the US participated on behalf of South Korea (Republic of Korea) against DPRK never technically ended with the North and South at an armistice for 60 years, establishing the DMZ (de-militarized zone) though the two sides kept their weapons pointed diligently at the other side of the border.
If either an American or North Korean finds themselves in a diplomatic issue in the other country, they are on their own. While interventions in one-off cases have taken place in the case of Warmbier and others, DPRK is not a country that an American would want to find themselves on the wrong side of the law, even if that means leaving a Bible in a bathroom.
Of all the countries this site’s own, Matthew Klint, has visited without diplomatic support – the DPRK is not one of them. He has visited Iran (prior to the Iran nuclear deal), Cuba before former President Obama relaxed enforcement of restrictions since the Kennedy era, but not North Korea, not yet anyway.
If Things Go Well
If the talks are successful, though both leaders have been prone to bombastic tones and surprising actions, it could mean the country is opened up. Using my crystal ball, I envision a situation similar to China. When in China, I avoid sensitive areas, I don’t take photos where they might draw attention. I adhere to both spoken and unspoken rules for decorum of Americans in China.
I would expect that when sanctions are lifted, I can freely spend money in the DPRK without facing scrutiny from the Treasury Department (though it may be awhile before Visa and Mastercard set up shop). If embassies are built in each country, I would be able to go there freely and should I run into trouble, should have support and a diplomatic process for dealing with it.
While I couldn’t speculate on whether I would be able to get an Airbnb (probably not) or use hotel points to pay for my stay, I would suspect that I could use points to offset the cost of airfare, even though Air China partners may not directly list it as a destination and load it into the GDS.
I would also expect that if I were to go, I would be received with mixed emotions. I list a couple of books below where they each outline the indoctrination of the people against Americans, Dennis Rodman exempted. And I think that I would learn a lot about an area of the world that has been off limits for a long time. I look forward to educating myself on what it means to be North Korean.
Both South and North Korean parties long for the reunification of the Korean peninsula. People on both sides of the border still have family connections on the other. I doubt that it will be as simple as hopping on a train in Seoul for Pyongyang for some time, but East and West Germans probably felt just as far apart as the Koreans do now. I remain optimistic but skeptical they will achieve the same outcome.
Probably Not For Awhile… Though Tempting
I am not a history buff per se, but I recall reading about Germans before WWII using Deutsch Marks for wallpaper because it was cheaper than buying rolls themselves. I have listened to a couple of great Audible books on the topic and found myself captivated by the country. (This isn’t a plug for Audible, but they give you three free books during a trial which you can cancel for free at any time, my two favorites are: My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth and Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea)
I wanted to visit Venezuela prior to the collapse which has not yet taken place, but seems all but a foregone conclusion. The DPRK is not as dangerous on the streets as Venezuela, and following successful talks and opening up, it shouldn’t be dangerous for Americans to visit politcally either.
If I were a single man today, perhaps I would go. I might enjoy Kish Island as Matthew did and I might have taken a further risk to go to Venezuela before things really went off the rails when I was planning a trip in March of 2017. But I am not a single man, I have a wife and daughter that love to travel the world with me. DPRK is a place they too might want to see, but even after sanctions are lifted and if the country opens up, it will probably be some time before we book a flight to Pyongyang.
Unless of course, my wife says yes. In that case, we are on the next flight.
What do you think about visiting North Korea (DPRK)? Would you go if there was diplomatic support? Would you go if there wasn’t? Have you been – please comment if you have been.