U.S. Army Private Travis King, the soldier who made a daring dash into North Korea in July, is now in U.S. custody and en route back to the United States after North Korea expelled him into China.
This development marks a rare instance of cooperation between the U.S., North Korea, and China, though the details of the diplomatic negotiations behind King’s transfer remain mostly undisclosed.
The U.S. State Department confirmed King’s impending return, which was expected to take place on the same day.
Travis King, aged 23, had impulsively crossed into North Korea from South Korea on July 18 during a civilian visit to the heavily fortified border.
Upon entering North Korean territory, he was promptly taken into custody by North Korean authorities.
Although there was internal debate within the U.S. government, Washington refrained from designating him as a prisoner of war, while North Korea treated his case as one of illegal immigration.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency reported that King had informed Pyongyang of his illegal entry, citing disillusionment with what he saw as inequalities within U.S. society.
The decision to expel King was the culmination of an investigation into his border crossing, with North Korea claiming that he sought refuge due to maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. military.
The Swedish government, acting as the representative for U.S. interests in North Korea since the U.S. has no diplomatic presence there, facilitated King’s return from North Korea and transported him to China.
Upon arrival in China, U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns greeted King in Dandong, a city bordering North Korea. From there, King traveled to Shenyang, China, before heading to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea.
U.S. officials expressed gratitude to Sweden and China, reporting that King appeared to be in good health and was eagerly anticipating his journey home.
He was able to speak with his family following his release from North Korea.
The release followed several months of intense diplomacy, with U.S. officials emphasizing that no concessions were made to North Korea in exchange for King’s return.
However, this development is not seen as a broader breakthrough in U.S.-North Korea relations, and China played the role of a transit point rather than a mediator.
South Korea’s foreign ministry welcomed King’s release, though it provided no further details.
Travis King’s case garnered attention due to allegations of racism he experienced during his military deployment, and he had faced disciplinary actions in South Korea.
After leaving military detention and awaiting transport to his home unit in the U.S., he left the airport to join a tour of the border area, ultimately running across the border into North Korea despite efforts by South Korean and U.S. guards to prevent him.
Upon his return, King will undergo evaluation, a reintegration process, and reunification with his family. The possibility of court martial remains uncertain, pending further assessment.
He is expected to be treated at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, the same facility that cared for basketball star Brittney Griner after her release from Russian detention in a prisoner swap.