President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during his trip to South Korea next month.
A defense source told South Korea’s Yonhap News that a White House advance team checked out Panmunjom and Observation Post Ouellette in late September.
Panmunjom is the village where the armistice that ended hostilities in the 1950-1953 Korean War was signed. It has been used occasionally for meetings between North and South Korean officials over the ensuing years. Technically, the Korean War is still in progress since a full peace treaty was never signed.
Observation Post Ouellette is named for Pfc. Joseph Ouellette, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in the Korean War. It has frequently been visited by American dignitaries and reporters, most recently including Vice President Mike Pence in April.
Yonhap’s source said it was likely Trump would visit a location along the DMZ to send a “significant message” to North Korea.
Intriguingly, Yonhap’s source said the White House advance team may have looked at “frontline islands such as Yeonpyeong-do or Baengnyeong-do.” Yeonpyeong Island was shelled by North Korea in an unprovoked artillery attack in 2010, killing two South Korean soldiers.
Baengnyeong is regarded as one of the likely first targets for a North Korean attack, in part because North Korean leaders constantly threaten to destroy it. Its waters have seen most of the confrontations between North and South Korean naval forces over the past few decades, notably including the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo attack in 2010. It has been heavily fortified with watchtowers, radar stations, air-raid shelters, and a ring of steel girders in the water designed to thwart North Korean landing craft.
Many previous presidents and vice-presidents have visited the DMZ but, of course, Trump’s possible visit is seen as different because tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated, with great personal animosity between President Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un.
“The image of him narrowing his eyes to stare across the DMZ. It is tweeting by another means,” Yonsei University researcher Bong Youngshik pithily told Bloomberg Politics. “Mr. Trump may also think that if it provokes Pyongyang, all the better.
President Trump is also expected to visit Japan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii during his November 3 – 14 trip, although the White House has not published a detailed schedule yet.