19 August 2019
A planned summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump has been hailed as a historic breakthrough, but no one is betting on the potential outcome. Photos: Reuters/KCNA
A planned summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump has been hailed as a historic breakthrough, but no one is betting on the potential outcome. Photos: Reuters/KCNA

Why a Trump-Kim summit will be poker game of the century

US President Donald Trump has once again surprised the world by agreeing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May.

If the meeting does really take place, the two leaders will be the focus of global media attention. But the true winner in the remarkable diplomatic breakthrough will be Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president.

According to a recent poll, Moon’s approval rating has soared to 71 percent. One of the reasons for his increased rating is that many South Koreans believe that the ice-breaking meeting between Trump and Kim wouldn’t be possible without their president’s untiring efforts and perseverance. Some have even tipped him for the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Compared to South Korea’s pro-activeness in seeking to end the military standoff on the Korean Peninsula, China’s role in the crisis appears to have undergone some delicate changes.

Ever since the North Korea nuclear crisis unfolded, the US has been looking to China for both help and mediation. And Trump has, on numerous occasions, publicly urged Beijing to use its influence to bring Pyongyang into line.

Unfortunately, even though the Chinese leaders did heed Washington’s call and take part in international economic sanctions against Pyongyang in an attempt to put pressure on the regime, all Beijing got was Kim’s cold shoulder.

In fact, Kim has never met with any Chinese leader since he took power in December 2011, an unmistakable indication that China and North Korea have been drifting apart further and further under the Kim regime.

However, despite having been sidelined by both Seoul and Washington in the North Korea nuclear saga, Beijing seems to bear no bitterness at all, at least on the surface.

Instead, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has welcomed Washington’s decision to open up dialogue with Pyongyang, and urged Trump to meet with Kim as soon as possible. 

The reasons why Beijing is responding positively to US-North Korea dialogue are indeed simple:

First, if North Korea agrees to give up its nukes, it could immediately ease the security pressure upon China’s northeastern border. Second, the denuclearization of North Korea would deprive Japan of any excuse for boosting its armaments.

And third, North Korea’s denuclearization would also mean that South Korea no longer needs to deploy the US THAAD missile system on its soil, removing a security irritant for China.

All this said, not everybody is bullish about the potential meeting between Trump and Kim and its outcome. That is because we have seen quite a few cases in the past 20 years where denuclearization agreements have been broken.

The Trump-Kim meeting, assuming that it happens, will undoubtedly be the poker game of the century. We won’t know how things will really play out until after the historic summit between the “old lunatic” and the “rocket man”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 12

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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