Beginning of a New End in the Korean Peninsula
Dr Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, VIF

After almost three and a half months of high-powered diplomacy leading up to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in North Korea, the first meeting between a sitting United States and a North Korean leader took place on 12 June 2018 in Singapore. The meeting has been termed ‘historic’ by the international community, but there is a need to analyze whether it achieved what it set out to do?

Trump and Kim signed a comprehensive Joint Statement stating the dawn of a new era in the US-North Korea relations1. The Joint statement mentioned the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula as a common goal. However, the US still does not have any assurance or clarity regarding the timeframe and process to achieve that. The definition of denuclearisation remains ambiguous for both the countries, indicating they are not on the same page regarding its meaning or scope. The clause of “complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation (CVID)” was added only later to the process of complete denuclearisation process. During the meeting, President Trump also announced that the US would suspend joint military exercises with its South Korean allies2. The suspension of military exercises was also supported by the recently appointed US ambassador to South Korea, Admiral Harry Harris, who stated that “we (the US) should give major exercises a pause to see if Kim Jong Un is serious about his part of the negotiations” 3. Thus, if North Korea was to desert its peace commitments, the US would resume the exercises. It was also agreed that the follow-on negotiations would be carried on by Mike Pompeo and a relevant high level North Korean official. Besides, three Americans, held in North Korea on espionage charges, were released as a goodwill gesture during the Summit.4

There are a number of speculations about the reasons why Trump and Kim agreed to talk at this point after having exchanged ‘crude insults’ at each other. North Korea has been on the receiving end of a number of UN sanctions and the willingness and unconditional approach shown by the US for talks could be a driving factor. The imposing of sanctions by China has also played a major role in pushing the North Koreans to the talking table. On the other hand, Trump believes that these talks should have been conducted long time back and thus has been keen to discuss the de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. 5

Though China was physically absent from the Trump-Kim Summit held in Singapore, its presence was obvious. The fact that Kim chose an Air China Jet to transport him to Singapore says a lot about his trust in China. Kim had also visited China twice in order to prepare for the meeting with Trump and visited Beijing after the Summit to ‘brief’ Xi Jinping. During the recent visit by Kim to Beijing on June 19, 2018, Xi said, “No matter how the international and regional situations change, the firm stance of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government on consolidating and developing the relations with the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, remains unchanged, the Chinese people's friendship with the DPRK people remains unchanged, and China's support for the socialist DPRK remains unchanged”.6 In addition, China has already floated the idea of a trilateral summit between China, Japan and South Korea by the end of 2018 with the aim of discussing the path for the denuclealisation of the Korean Peninsula.7

Another major gain for China was the promise by Trump to halt the military exercises with South Korea and the possible withdrawal of its troops stationed there. This is an acceptance of the Chinese proposal of ‘freeze for freeze’ which Beijing has been pushing for the last few years.8 The role of China in bringing Kim and Trump together was also acknowledged by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi termed the meeting as an historic event and while asserting the role of China he argued, “I don’t think anybody should doubt the unique and important role China plays in this process”. 9 After the summit, China has been the first country to start pushing for withdrawal of the UN sanctions imposed on North Korea. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, “the relevant resolutions passed by the UN Security Council stipulate that … adjustment to the sanctions has to be made in accordance with the situation on how North Korea has implemented the agreement – including suspending or removing relevant sanction measures”.10

The role of South Korea should also not be ignored. Since last year, the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in had dreamt of sitting on the driver’s seat and taking the ownership of Korea’s future. South Korea has emerged as a honest partner in the ongoing diplomacy or the future of the Korean Peninsula. It was South Korea which held two rounds of meeting with North Korea in April and May 2018, thus building a platform for the upcoming Trump-Kim Summit in June. Moon describes the Summit as “a historic act of dismantling the last remnants of the Cold War” and praised the two for their courageous decision11 Similarly, South Korea and Japan have the greatest stake in the de-nuclealisation of North Korea and its entry into the regional rule based order.

Post his summit meeting with Trump, Kim has shown inclination to meet the Japanese Prime Minister. It is expected that the two will meet in September 2018 in city of Vladivostok, Russia on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum which he will be attending on the invitation of President Putin. 12

The new developments in the US-North Korean relations could usher a peaceful Korean Peninsula and a halt in the nuclear testing by the North Korea in the interim period. Earlier, Donald Trump had two agenda: one, the collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime, and second, denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. After the Summit, the former agenda is no more relevant and on the contrary, Trump has invited Kim Jong-un to the White House,13 thus giving legitimacy to his regime. The invitation for Kim to meet the Japanese Prime Minister further strengthens the notion that he has managed to ‘almost end’ the North Korean diplomatic and political isolation.

There are many imponderables hereafter. Any withdrawal of the US from the East Asian region may not prove to be conducive for China in the long run. The changing security dynamics may push Japan and South Korea to further militarise which may push for an arms race in the region. The ongoing territorial disputes of China with other countries will also prove to be a major catalyst in this regard. Post the Summit, China has already started pushing Japan and South Korea for a trilateral summit in Beijing by the end of 2018 to discuss the issue of North Korean denuclearisation with the aim of strengthening the role of East Asian countries in the process.14 That might reflect upon to the argument whether China is ready, or capable, of taking on the role of security provider or guarantor in the East Asian region.

End Notes:

1. Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/joint-statement-president-donald-j-trump-united-states-america-chairman-kim-jong-un-democratic-peoples-republic-korea-singapore-summit/
2. US to suspend military exercises with South Korea, Trump says accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/12/us-to-suspend-war-games-with-south-korea-donald-trump-kim-jong-un-north-summit
3. Former Pacific Command head backs Trump’s suspension of joint exercises with South Korea accessed at https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2018/06/14/former-pacom-head-backs-trumps-suspension-of-joint-exercises-with-s-korea/
4. Releasing 3 Americans, North Koreans Signal Openness to Washington accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/us/politics/trump-korea-detainees-pompeo.html
5. “Trump's insults, sanctions and a willingness to talk may have pushed North Korea to the bargaining table” By Brian Bennett, LA Times, March 6, 2018 at http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-fg-trump-northkorea-20180306-story.html, (accessed June 21, 2018).
6. “Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un hold talks in Beijing” People’s Daily, June 19, 2018 at http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0620/c90000-9472811.html, (accessed June 20, 2018).
7. “China sounds out Japan and South Korea for another summit about North Korea this year, sources say” South China Morning Post, June 18, 2018 at http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2151218/china-sounds-out-japan-and-south-korea-another-summit-abou, (accessed June 19, 2018).
8. “China hails its 'indisputable' role in outcome of Trump-Kim summit” by Lily Kuo, The Guardian, June 13, 2018 at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/13/china-hails-its-indisputable-role-in-outcome-of-trump-kim-summit, (accessed June 18, 2018).
9. “China Praises Summit Between President Trump and Kim Jong Un For 'Creating a New History'”, By Eli Meixler, Time, June 12, 2018 at http://time.com/5309475/china-reaction-trump-kim-summit/, (accessed June 15, 2018).
10. “After Trump-Kim summit, China says sanctions against North Korea could be eased” by Catherine Wong, South China Morning Post, June 12, 2018 at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2150399/china-suggests-sanctions-against-north-korea-could-be, (accessed June 15, 2018).
11. Moon can slurp gravy from no-beef summit accessed at http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/opinion/2018/06/667_250654.html
12. “Five reasons why Kim agreed to meet Trump” by Harun ur Rashid, The Daily Start, June 19, 2018 at https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/global-affairs/five-reasons-why-kim-agreed-meet-trump-1591843, (accessed June 20, 2018).
13. What Kim Jong-un and Trump each achieved in Singapore accessed at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/06/12/what-kim-jong-un-and-trump-each-achieved-in-singapore/
14. “China sounds out Japan and South Korea for another summit about North Korea this year, sources say” South China Morning Post, June 18, 2018 at http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2151218/china-sounds-out-japan-and-south-korea-another-summit-about, (accessed June 18, 2018).

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Cover Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kim_and_Trump_shaking_hands_at_the_red_carpet_during_the_DPRK%E2%80%93USA_Singapore_Summit.jpg

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