Hopes for Kim-Trump summit, but big divide

Global Times
Li Jiayao

By Wang Sheng

The remarkable inter-Korean summit ended at the Demilitarized Zone last week, with the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration by leaders of both sides. The declaration was well beyond the expectation of observers and can be viewed as a landmark event in inter-Korean relations since the end of Cold War.

The Panmunjom pact says the countries will seek a formal end to the Korean War and completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain. This will bring an end to the unnatural state of armistice and a peace treaty will be worked out by the end of this year. They agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner. All these measures will pave a solid foundation for the ending of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula.

The pact reaffirmed the common goal of complete denuclearization of the peninsula. This is the first time that North Korea agreed to give up nuclear weapons in an official document since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.

Such a positive gesture will help eliminate US strategic doubt over the sincerity of Pyongyang in this regard.

After the unprecedented summit, US President Donald Trump said on Twitter that a meeting with Kim could happen in three-to-four weeks. At this critical juncture, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a trip to Pyongyang Wednesday at the invitation of his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho, the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister in 11 years. This shows that China and North Korea value close communication regarding the trajectory of the peninsula. They will prepare and provide proposals for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit and multilateral talks.

The Korean Armistice Agreement is only a symbolic political document. If the two Koreas want to sign a peace treaty, China, as one of the signatories of the armistice agreement, must play an indispensable role.

The summit did not mention when and how North Korea will abandon its nuclear ambitions. The core agenda of the Trump-Kim summit is how to narrow the gap over this issue between the US and North Korea.

The contradiction between Pyongyang and Washington is that North Korea would like to give up nuclear weapons in a phased manner, while the US will demand a timetable for Pyongyang's full denuclearization. The phased abandonment of North Korea is a refurbished version of the dual-track and dual-suspension approaches suggested by China.

It is unrealistic to fix the issue once and for all at the US-North Korea summit and the main objective of the summit should be to narrow their discrepancies.

It is reported that Trump nominated Admiral Harry Harris to fill the long-vacant US Ambassadorship to South Korea. The choice indicates Trump's intention to impose extreme pressure on the North. Harris is known to be tough on North Korea, as are Trump's other diplomatic henchmen such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Generally Washington has carried out a carrot-and-stick approach to achieve its goals in negotiations with Pyongyang.

Trump's personal determination is very important. His party faces mid-term elections. Many are dissatisfied with the way he handled Sino-US relations and other world affairs. He hopes to gain some points on the North Korean nuclear issue.

The key to the US-North Korea summit is whether Trump and Kim will come out with positive results like those achieved between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Mattis has indicated that there is more optimism than ever before when it comes to dealing with North Korea and that US troop withdrawal could be up for negotiation if North Korea and South Korea can solidify a lasting peace deal. There used to be differences on the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, but now China and the two Koreas have reached a consensus.

The will of the two Koreas displayed at their summit was a breath of fresh air for the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the entire world. The Kim-Moon meeting was only a warm-up and the key meeting is Kim and Trump. It is hoped that all sides can extend this positive trend and eventually help realize long-term peace on the peninsula.

The author is a professor of international politics at the college of public administration, Jilin University and a research fellow at the Co-Innovation Center for Korean Peninsula Studies.


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