27 May 2019
The Trump-Kim summit isn’t entirely fruitless, as it has at least laid the foundation and set the tone for further dialogue between the two leaders on the denuclearization issue. Photo: Reuters
The Trump-Kim summit isn’t entirely fruitless, as it has at least laid the foundation and set the tone for further dialogue between the two leaders on the denuclearization issue. Photo: Reuters

Why a vague US-N Korea agreement may not be a bad thing

US President Donald Trump, who had bragged that he could tell “within one minute” if Kim Jong-un was serious about making peace, seemed to get along well with the North Korean leader during their Tuesday summit in Singapore, with the two speaking with each other for almost half a day.

As leaders of the two countries appeared to have finally agreed to bury the hatchet and cooperate with each other, it undoubtedly raises hopes for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

Yet despite the warm atmosphere of the Trump-Kim summit, all it has produced is a framework agreement that lacks both specifics and timetable.

In fact all the joint statement says is that Washington and Pyongyang will work together to build a new bilateral relationship, to establish a sustainable peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula, to strive for denuclearization as stated in the April 27 Panmunjom declaration, and to find the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War.

However, as to how exactly North Korea is going to implement “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” and how the US is going to deliver security guarantee, the joint statement simply didn’t mention a word.

Perhaps the only solid outcome of the summit was that, as Trump later claimed, Kim had made a verbal promise to destroy a missile engine testing site in his country, while Trump agreed to put the US-South Korea joint military exercise on hold.

In other words, the joint statement put out by Trump and Kim was nothing more than a letter of intent over denuclearization on the Korean peninsula that lacks both details and a roadmap on how the goal can be achieved.

That said, in our opinion, we believe a vague agreement between the US and North Korea isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it can give Washington and Pyongyang more room for maneuver and flexibility on the issue in the coming days.

After all, the US and North Korea had remained at odds with each other for over 65 years, and it would be totally unrealistic to expect the two nations to settle all their differences decisively at one go.

Besides, if Kim did really promise to scrap a missile engine testing site as Trump claimed, it would probably be a logical inference that the two leaders could have reached some other secret verbal agreements as well when they met behind closed doors, only that they have chosen not to make them public for now.

As Trump has told the media that he would invite Kim to the White House when the time is ripe and that he himself might make a trip to Pyongyang later, one can expect more meetings between the two in the days ahead.

In that sense, the Trump-Kim summit isn’t entirely fruitless, because it has at least laid the foundation and set the tone for further dialogue between the two leaders on how to ultimately achieve the long-term vision of total denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

The journey towards complete denuclearization would no doubt be a long one, and would require concerted and sustained efforts, as well as cooperation in good faith between Washington and Pyongyang.

But as long as the two are willing to talk in the coming days, there will certainly be a lot of room for sustainable development on the issue.

If their dialogue goes well, it will not only facilitate the normalization of the US-North Korean relations, it will also help Pyongyang to end its decades-long isolation and integrate back into the international community.

For the rest of the world, the reconciliation between Washington and Pyongyang is definitely joyful, yet as far as China is concerned, it might be bittersweet.

It is sweet, because as North Korea finally agrees to give up its nukes, China no longer has to be worried about this troublesome neighbor.

Nonetheless, it is also bitter because Pyongyang, which is now getting closer with Washington, may no longer be willing to do Beijing’s bidding like it was in the past.

Shortly after the Trump-Kim summit, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi stressed that “no one would ever question the unique and pivotal role China has played in the peace process on the peninsula, and China will continue to fulfill this role in the future.”

However, the reality is, as Kim, who has already come of age as a state leader, is now able to deal with his American counterpart on an equal footing, it is inevitable that Beijing’s influence on Pyongyang would gradually decline in the coming days.

In fact the worst-case scenario for Beijing would be closer ties between Pyongyang and Washington with US troops continuing to be stationed along the 38th parallel.

If that happens, China will undoubtedly be the biggest loser.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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