In a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly Wednesday, President Trump spoke directly to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and warned the 33-year-old madman not to “try us.”
“This a very different administration than the United States has had in the past. Today I hope I speak not only for our countries, but for all civilized nations, when I say to the North: Do not underestimate us. And do not try us,” Trump said during a speech that was interrupted 20 times for applause and ended with a standing ovation.
His warning notwithstanding, Trump used the speech to suggest a diplomatic path forward with North Korea, something he had previously seemed to write off. “Despite every crime you have committed against God and man,” Trump said, “we will offer a path to a much better future. It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable, and total denuclearization.”
It was the second time during his 24-hour visit to South Korea that Trump suggested a diplomatic solution to the ever-growing tensions between Pyongyang and the rest of the world. As Victor Cha, his pick to serve as ambassador to South Korea, wrote on Twitter, Trump offered a “diplomacy exit ramp” to the regime.
Trump’s speech was largely well received in Seoul, in part because he did not come across as the unhinged madman some expected, but also because of his unrelenting attacks on the human-rights abuses in the North.
“Far from valuing its people as equal citizens, this cruel dictatorship measures them, scores them, and ranks them based on the most arbitrary indications of their allegiance to the state. Those who score the highest in loyalty may live in the capital city. Those who score the lowest starve,” he said.
Trump, whose remarks were praised by some who escaped Kim’s despotic rule, bemoaned the 100,000 North Koreans suffering “in gulags, toiling in forced labor, and enduring torture, starvation, rape, and murder on a constant basis.”
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned,” he said, speaking directly to Kim. “It is a hell that no person deserves.”
Earlier in the day, in what aides told CNN was an attempt to add some symbolism to his warnings, Trump attempted to visit the DMZ so he could stare down North Korea. The visit was ultimately foiled by heavy fog, which forced Marine One to turn back before Trump could shoot his steely gaze across the 38th Parallel.
Trump was “frustrated,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. But there was little time to dwell. His busy itinerary had him jetting off to China, where he arrived Wednesday afternoon to a warm welcome. Trump is expected to spend his two days in China working on North Korea and the economic relationship between the two biggest economies in the world. But first, Chinese president Xi Jinping whisked Trump off to the Forbidden City for a bite to eat and a taste of Chinese opera.