US soldier Travis King heads home after being expelled by North Korea

A man watches the news showing US soldier Travis King on screen, at his home in Seoul, South Korea, 27 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / JEON HEON-KYUN)

Private Travis King, the US soldier who ran into North Korea in July, is in US custody and heading home after being expelled by North Korea into China, the United States said on Wednesday.

While details about the diplomacy that led to King’s transfer remained scarce, the development was a rare example of cooperation between the United States, North Korea and China. The State Department said King was expected to return to the United States later on Wednesday.

King (23) made a sudden dash into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of their heavily fortified border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.

Washington declined to declare him a prisoner of war despite heated debate within the government. For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.

North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was disillusioned about unequal US society.

North Korea’s decision to expel King, published by KCNA, detailed the final results of an investigation into his border crossing. Last month, it said that he wanted refuge in North Korea or elsewhere because of maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US army.


The Swedish government, which represents US interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that King was met by the US ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, in Dandong, China, a river city bordering North Korea. Miller said King flew from there to Shenyang, China, then to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea.

Expressing gratitude to Sweden and China, US officials, citing US diplomatic representatives who saw King, told reporters he appeared in good health and was “very happy” to be on his way home. He was able to speak with his family after his release from North Korea.

His release followed months of intense diplomacy, the US officials said, adding that no concessions were made to the North in exchange for King.

“This incident, to our minds, demonstrates that keeping lines of communication open even when ties are strained is a really important thing to do and can deliver results,” one senior administration official said.

“We, again, stand by ready for any further diplomacy (with North Korea) that might be possible.”

Miller said he did not view King’s return as a sign of a wider breakthrough with North Korea and that China had not served as a mediator in the matter, but rather as a transit point for the soldier.

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.


Jonathan Franks, spokesperson for King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said: “Ms. Gates will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done.”

King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in August that his nephew, who is Black, experienced racism during his military deployment, and that after he spent time in a South Korean jail, he did not sound like himself.

King, who joined the US army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced tirade against Koreans, according to court documents. He had been due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.

King had finished serving military detention and was at the airport awaiting US military transport to his home unit in the United States. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran across despite attempts by South Korean and US guards to stop him.

One US official said the military would consider administrative actions against King after he was evaluated, taken through a reintegration process and reunited with his family in the United States. The official declined to answer directly whether King would face a court martial.

A different US official said King was heading to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, which is located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. It is the same base that treated basketball star Brittney Griner in December last year after a prisoner swap with Russia ended her 10 months in Russian detention.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Trevor Hunnicutt and Hyonhee Shin.)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jennifer D says:

    Interesting that he was escaping a racist US army and that he himself then launched a “profanity-laced tirade against Koreans” demonstrating his own racist proclivity.
    In our own country we have people like Malema shouting the odds about racism and in the same breath activating racism against whites. Racism is about not accepting certain cultures based on race alone – this is the epitome of our own government who fought a battle for their own people against racism but having won, with the sanction and support of white people, continues to fight despite there being no war. Time to wake up, start working for our country and stop trying to divide the people of this country. United we stand, divided we fall!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options