DPRK, US must now build on consensus reached in Singapore

China Daily
Huang Panyue
US President Donald Trump and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's top leader Kim Jong-un sign documents in Singapore in this photo released on Tuesday by the DPRK's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA VIA REUTERS

The just-concluded Singapore summit in which a sitting US president met face-to-face with the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for the first time was a major step toward the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Whether the promises and consensus made during the meeting on Tuesday were more about headlines than substantive progress will depend on how the US, the DPRK and other stakeholders maintain the diplomatic momentum set in motion by the summit and whether they can produce some early results.

The major tests are whether US President Donald Trump will halt the joint war games held with the Republic of Korea as promised, and how the sanctions will be addressed.

In their joint statement, the DPRK and the United States said they are committed to establishing a new relationship, and that the DPRK will work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while the US will provide security guarantees to the DPRK.

At the news conference after the summit, Trump said that his top aides would meet with DPRK officials next week for further nuclear talks.

The immediate follow-up discussions are good to add meat to the bones of a joint statement which some critics lament lacks specifics. But as Abraham Denmark of the Wilson Center in Washington tweeted, "Where there is diplomacy there is hope."

It's also laudable that Trump said he wants China's involvement in the signing of a peace treaty to replace the current armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War. He did not specify when it will happen.

But when it comes to his offer of stopping war games, there is actually a time element attached to it.

Trump said, "We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we'll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it's (the military exercise) very provocative."

The annual US-ROK military drills are carried out twice in spring and fall. The autumn military exercises are scheduled for August.

Pyongyang has consistently denounced the drills as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.

The springtime joint military drills were delayed and conducted in April to help create a favorable atmosphere for the Winter Olympics hosted by the ROK in February, to which the DPRK sent a delegation. However, the DPRK suspended high-level talks planned with the ROK in protest of the war games.

It is true that Trump will have to steer clear of being swayed by different opinions from politicians and military officials in Washington and beyond, some of whom claimed they were caught off-guard by Trump's decision, and that the "routine and defensive" joint drills are part of the core of the US-ROK alliance.

The US-DPRK statement said that the two sides recognize "mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula". Both Pyongyang and Washington could follow up with actions to increase confidence building.

While the DPRK is expected, in Trump's words, to start the process of the denuclearization of Korean Peninsula "very, very quick", the US president will also have to deliver on his promise regarding security guarantees, with the halting of military drills being a concrete step.

There also are concerns about economic sanctions.

The negotiations following the summit must produce some early results or "wins" in order for all parties to place faith and political capital in the process, Victor Cha, a senior adviser and the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow with the CSIS Korea Chair, said on Tuesday.

They said that for the DPRK, early results in terms of the lifting of sanctions will be sought, as well as progress on defining a path to peaceful and normalized political relations.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kim said he and Trump had "decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change".

It is unclear what specifically is "the past" to leave behind, but it most probably includes the tensions and animosity between the two sides, and the confrontational rhetoric and behaviors that intensify the animosity.

Trump on Tuesday said he has held off imposing new sanctions, and the current sanctions will remain in place and will come off when the DPRK's nuclear weapons "are no longer a factor".

It is noteworthy that China has long proposed a "dual suspension" whereby the DPRK suspends its weapons tests, and the US and the ROK suspend their military drills, which is becoming closer to a reality.

It now supports adjusting the sanctions according to how the DPRK behaves.

"The relevant (United Nations) Security Council resolutions stipulate that we shall adjust sanction measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK's compliance, including suspending or lifting relevant sanction measures," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing on Tuesday.

Let's hope the US and the DPRK will continue to meet each other half way and ultimately reach the goals that they, as well as the international community, wish to see.

The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily USA.


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