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Foreign Policy

Kim Meeting a Big Test for Trump

Apr 17 , 2018
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies


The United States President Donald Trump has agreed to meet face to face with the supreme leader Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) some time before the end of May, 2018. It is a quick personal decision by Trump which deserves credit for the easing of tension on the Korean Peninsula. The international community is expecting that the said meeting will take place as promised by both sides without any mishaps. So far, the international situation is favorable to the meeting. Kim Jong Un of the DPRK told Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to China late March, his “consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il”. Kim Jong Un is confident that “the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south Korea and the US respond to their efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for realization of peace”. Now the ball is in Trump’s court. What Trump says and does in the next few weeks will have a direct impact on the fate of the DPRK-US summit and the situation on the Peninsula.

With the joint efforts of both the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK), the inter-Korean ties are gradually becoming a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation. Sports and cultural exchanges have been very successful and political talks are well under way to prepare for the summit of the two sides in late April. The improvement of relations between the DPRK and the ROK is conducive to peace and stability, and the ultimate resolution of the issue of denuclearization on the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation.

With Kim’s historic visit to China, China-DPRK relations have entered a new era. Strategic communication and cooperation in various fields are expected to expand remarkably in the days to come. Joint efforts made by both China and the DPRK will make greater contributions to the realization of denuclearization on the Peninsula.

Up to now, the DPRK, the ROK, the US, and China have all expressed agreement on the goal of denuclearization on the Peninsula. It is fundamental for the four parties to conduct more dialogues and consultations on the issue. Trump’s strategy and tactics will play the key role. If Trump truly works for peace and prosperity on the Peninsula and the region, the denuclearization process on the Peninsula will be relatively smooth. If Trump works solely for the interests of the US by seeking hegemony on the Peninsula and in the region, his summit with Kim could fail and the denuclearization on the Peninsula will be difficult to achieve.

Resolution of the nuclear issue on the Peninsula is extremely difficult and complicated. What adds to the difficulties is the fact that the DPRK and the US have neither diplomatic relations nor necessary political trust for meaningful talks. Naturally, Trump will have to confront a lot of tough problems if he is serious in resolving the nuclear issue, which his predecessors failed to.

First, as the US is the only superpower in the world today and a principal party of the Korean War in the 1950s, it is of crucial importance for the US to engage dialogues and consultations with others on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Further unilateral sanctions and threats of military strikes against the DPRK as well as habitual arrogance in international affairs would damage the peace process. Trump is required to show the grace a leader of a superpower should.

Second, the DPRK, the ROK, and the US need to build a consensus on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Generally,it is understood that denuclearization should cover the whole of the Peninsula, including the territorial waters of the DPRK and the ROK. It is very important for the DPRK to give up all its nuclear weapons programs. It may also be necessary to discuss whether the US’ nuclear-powered military vessels can enter the territorial waters of the DPRK and the ROK.

Third, how to inspect and verify if the DPRK has given up its nuclear weapons programs according to whatever agreement can be reached. A difficult point may be the standards and methods to differentiate nuclear weapons programs from those for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, as the lawful rights of both the DPRK and the ROK to use nuclear power peacefully deserve to be respected.

Fourth, how to build permanent peace on the Peninsula. The most pragmatic approach may be for the DPRK and the US, or all the parties concerned, to try to reach and sign a peace treaty to replace the Korea War Armistice Agreement of 1953. To realize this goal, the DPRK and the ROK need to keep up the momentum to improve bilateral relations, and the DPRK and the US will have to take confidence-building measures to gradually build political trust and create conditions for them to establish official diplomatic relations.

Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula cannot be fulfilled in weeks or months. Though the present situation has improved, it is still fragile and delicate. If US President Trump is determined to make his meeting with Kim Jong Un a success, he will have to carefully deal with the above problems, otherwise, the summit might be delayed or produce no remarkable results.

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