Beijing, Seoul indispensable
to second Kim-Trump summit
By Zhang Yun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/28 12:08:39
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
After US President Donald Trump met senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol at the White House, Washington announced that the much-expected meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would take place in late February. Definitely, this is encouraging news. The first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last June did bring about a remarkable thaw between US and North Korea if we consider the tensions between the countries and the trading of insults between the two leaders in the preceding year. However, the focus has now moved to the outcome of the second summit.
There are two important sentences in the Joint Statement released after the Singapore summit. Trump and Kim conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinion on the issues related to the establishment of new US-North Korean relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Peninsula. Trump committed to providing security guarantees to Pyongyang, and Kim reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization. Both sides have reasons to transform these commitments into specific measures in the second summit.
First, normalization of ties with the US will be the priority of North Korea. Kim would be interested in what specific security guarantees the US can offer in the upcoming meeting.
Kim has reiterated his commitment to complete denuclearization, based on commensurate US intention of establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea. The logic runs thus. If US hostility toward North Korea ceases, nuclear weapons will no longer be needed and economic sanctions would be lifted. After that, North Korea would be concentrating its energy on economic development.
Second, the US priority is achieving fully verified denuclearization before diplomatic relations with North Korea are established. Trump seems to want to talk with Kim based on an incremental way of resolving the nuclear issue. That is one reason why North Korea is serious about the negotiations as Kim has realized he is dealing with a US administration unlike any that has come before. But hawkish politicians would be impatient to see the process fail and interfere in talks. It can explain why the second summit could not have been held earlier.
Based on the above analysis, the key to the second summit is achieving visible results while skillfully managing the gap of expectations. It is essential for both sides to understand that full resolution of the issue would take years if not longer and they must be committed to continuing the meeting over several rounds. The process remains fragile and the roles of China and South Korea will be crucial.
First, as the immediate neighbors of North Korea, China and South Korea share the goal of establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. South Korean President Moon Jae-in even said that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and establishment of permanent peace are historic tasks that can neither be abandoned nor delayed. This mirrors the Chinese proposal of dual-track approach. China's role will be to provide a sense of security to North Korea in negotiations with the US, which could be an incentive for North Korea not to quit the process prematurely if it encounters setbacks. China has repeatedly expressed support for the North Korean pursuit of its legitimate security needs and encouraged Pyongyang to talk directly with the US. That is why Kim visited China before his first summit and recently before the second one was being discussed. In this sense, China's role would be indispensable during the talks.
Second, South Korea would play the role of a messenger for facilitating communication between North Korea and the US. Kim is now concerned about the US keeping its promise of ending hostile relations and providing a security guarantee in return for denuclearization. South Korea plays a critical role as it pushed for direct dialogue between Kim and Trump. The danger of a breakdown in relations between North Korea and US is more likely to be contained if the two Koreas find a way to keep talking. The North-South Summits last year did provide a valuable channel for an indirect dialogue between North Korea and the US. In this sense, South Korea also plays the role of a buffer if talks become acrimonious.
The author is associate professor of National Niigata University Japan and senior fellow, Institute of Advanced Area Studies and Global Governance, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. firstname.lastname@example.org