Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Trump-Kim meet: what prospects?

4 MAY 2018: THE outcome of a North Korea United States summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un - as the reins of the State Department move into hawkish hands and John Bolton steps in the White House as National Security Advisor - has opinion oscillating between optimism, engendered by the stunning visual treat of South Korean President Moon's handshake with Kim Jong-un and the symbolic crossing of the north-south border, and deep scepticism rooted in the belief Trump is being skilfully played.

Jamie Metzl told CNN there's a huge downside for America, "because the Trump administration has no coherent strategy for dealing with North Korea, while North Korea's leaders have an extremely smart strategy for America."

He argues: "Because North Korea's leaders see nuclear weapons as the primary survival strategy of their regime, they will not ultimately give up those weapons unless the costs of keeping them are greater than the costs of giving them up. The only way they will reach this conclusion is if they believe either that the US is going to use military force to overthrow their government or that China is going to completely cut the country off from trade and aid if they don't give up their nukes. Neither of these scenarios is possible."

The New York Times writes, "We have long encouraged Mr. Trump to pursue negotiations to resolve the danger of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, rather than threatening war, and the United States should make the most of this opportunity." The paper strikes a note of caution pointing out that much homework needs to be done with no ambassador in Seoul and "...little coordination between the White House and the State Department, which has been gutted and marginalized."

The Hill takes an alarmist view of John Bolton's induction and says so bluntly in a candid headline "Trump, don't let John Bolton blow the North Korea talks." It suggests the White House take a long-term view of events rather than trying to rush through agreements for a media stroke. The USA must recognise "that this is the start of a process, not the end. Establish a plan for future meetings and a series of phases, eventually culminating in the denuclearization of North Korea. This will not happen overnight."

Among the sceptics is Jeffrey Lewis who earlier wrote in The Washington Post, "... when Trump agreed to a summit, he unwittingly cast himself in what may well be another installment of the propaganda series, one in which North Korea’s testing of both thermonuclear weapons and missiles that can strike the U.S. has compelled an American president to come to Kim Jong Un and recognize North Korea as a nuclear-armed power."

The replacement of dovish Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State by hawkish CIA Director Mike Pompeo further complicates matters as the two maintain opposing positions not just on North Korea but other purported US adversaries like Iran. The Washington Post reports Pompeo declaring on 11 March 2018, "Make no mistake about it, while these negotiations are going on, there will be no concessions made." In contrast Tillerson said on record in April 2017, "We do not seek a collapse of the regime. We do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We seek a denuclearized Korean Peninsula."

The Korea JoongAng Daily had earlier presciently headlined, "Trump knew of Kim's invitation well in advance." The paper continued, "After the North decided to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Washington and Pyongyang began secret contacts, around Jan. 20, the source said. The contacts became more active after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) got information that the North wanted to have a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the opening ceremony in February. The State Department was completely excluded from the process, the source said. Although the North initiated a meeting between Pence and Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of leader Kim Jong-un, who visited the South as a special envoy for the Games’ opening ceremony, it called off the meeting just two hours before it was to start."

The paper says following the North-South Korea meeting, "Trump said that the joint declaration by Moon and the North Korean leader Kim to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula was 'very good news' not only for the two Koreas but for the entire world, according to the Blue House." – Asian Conversations