As President Donald Trump prepares for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, later this month, it’s hard not to wonder if the visit would be more impactful if Trump played host here in the States.

Knee-jerk reactions of many people will probably be a resounding no; after all, North Korea is a family dictatorship with abysmal human rights abuses. However, this view ignores the fact that out of its national interest the U.S. has maintained good relations with countries having poor human rights records and that positive changes are emerging in North Korea. 


This of course comes amidst another controversial invitation to a prominent East Asian figure. Five sitting U.S. Senators – Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOvernight Defense: Trump to reverse North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury | Move sparks confusion | White House says all ISIS territory in Syria retaken | US-backed forces report heavy fighting | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (R-Colo.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Rubio's pragmatic thinking on China MORE (R-Fla.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (R-Ark.), John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary The Memo: Trump can't let go of McCain grudge Michael Bennet is close to deciding on possible presidential bid MORE (R-Texas) – petitioned House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dems plot strategy after end of Mueller probe Coons after Russia probe: House Dems need to use power in 'focused and responsible way' Trump, Congress brace for Mueller findings MORE (D-Calif.) in a Feb. 7 letter to invite Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen to address a joint session of Congress. This unprecedented move has been criticized by former U.S. officials and top China scholars such as Susan Shirk and Richard Bush and was met with caution and skepticism in Taiwan.  

These senators suggested that such an invitation would be consistent with U.S. law.  However, a visit by Taiwan’s leader to Washington would be a breach of the U.S. commitment to China and also violates the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has regulated “unofficial” relations between the United States and Taiwan for four decades. It will almost certainly create a catastrophe in U.S.-China relations and cross-strait relations, if the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis is any indication. At the time, China conducted a series of missile tests near Taiwan to protest Tsai’s predecessor Lee Teng-hui’s visit to Cornell University and to intimidate Taiwan’s electorate ahead of the 1996 presidential election. In response, President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe wisdom of Trump's lawyers, and the accountability that must follow Mueller's report JOBS for Success Act would recognize that all people have potential Howard Schultz is holding the Democratic Party hostage MORE dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, bringing the U.S. and Chinese militaries dangerously close to a direct clash.

Whatever justifications they may have, supporters of a potential Tsai visit to Washington are hard pressed to answer the most fundamental question in U.S. foreign policy: Given the dire consequences, what American interest will a Tsai visit serve? Inviting Tsai to Washington will undoubtedly create a new and more precarious crisis in U.S.-China relations since a conflict in the Taiwan Strait is very likely to drag the U.S. into direct military confrontation with China.

American politicians must focus on important domestic affairs rather than trigger a foreign policy crisis. If they are so eager to host a controversial foreign leader, perhaps they can consider inviting Kim, not Tsai, to the United States as a bold step to solve North Korea’s nuclear problem.

Inviting Kim to Washington may usher in a new era of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, removing one of the most serious security challenges in U.S. foreign policy.

Indeed, a visit to the United States by Kim Jong Un is both feasible and desirable.


President TrumpDonald John TrumpMueller report findings could be a 'good day' for Trump, Dem senator says Trump officials heading to China for trade talks next week Showdown looms over Mueller report MORE and Chairman Kim have established a good working relationship after their first meeting in Singapore. Though it might be too late to change the venue of their second summit, one wonders if the two leaders were to meet again in the future, it should be Kim’s turn to fly across the Pacific.

Critics will continue to pour cold water on President Trump’s peace efforts and cast doubt on Kim’s commitment to denuclearize.  But circumstances on the Korean Peninsula have been evolving so rapidly recently that one cannot look at North Korea today through old lenses.  In fact, Kim himself has changed. Kim has made it clear over the past couple of years that development and improvement of North Koreans’ living standards are his priority. He has also been working with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to promote peace and reconciliation on the Peninsula.

Denuclearization of North Korea is not the end but a means to achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. U.S. foreign policy should include plans to help a post-nuclear North Korea to modernize.

Incipient reforms are taking place in North Korea now. When Deng Xiaoping initiated reform policies in the late 1970s, the United States supported and encouraged him. Deng was welcomed to the White House by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, which helped create a conducive international environment for China’s opening up. 

Nearly seven decades after the outbreak of the Korean War, U.S.-North Korea relations are entering a critical phase. It is in the U.S. interest to grasp the historic opportunity and encourage North Korea’s reforms and shape the future of the Korean Peninsula. Inviting Kim Jong Un to visit the United States could be a catalyst to speed up the positive changes already happening.

Zhiqun Zhu, PhD, is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.