MACK WILLIAMS : Chinese view of Second Trump:Kim Summit

Feb 11, 2019

Given the key role which President Xi has played in the negotiating process between President Trump and Chairman Kim a recent analysis in the Global Times (published by the People’s Daily) provides some valuable Chinese insights into the prospects for the Second Summit.

In an Global Times Op Ed, entitled “Can second Trump: Kim summit break the stalemate?”, a Chinese academic has recently reviewed the prospects for the summit which is worth reading in some detail:

“…. In preparation for the second Trump-Kim summit, North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui and US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun held three-day talks from January 20 at a resort near the Swedish capital Stockholm. South Korean negotiator Lee Do-hoon also took part.

Trump said on January 19 that “Kim is looking very forward to it and so am I. We’ve made a lot of progress that has not been reported by the media.” Kim also expressed “great satisfaction” after receiving Trump’s letter and spoke highly of Trump’s “unusual determination and will for the settlement of the issue,” according to KCNA.

The bilateral interaction has sent a positive signal, as both Pyongyang and Washington have demonstrated their determination to hold further negotiation

In addition, there exist other favorable conditions. The UN Security Council approved an exemption on sanctions for aid to North Korea from four international humanitarian groups on January 18. A joint military exercise between Washington and Seoul originally scheduled for March may be cancelled or scaled down.

Although specific agenda of the second Trump-Kim summit has not been announced, it is not difficult to guess the key topics. It is widely believed that both sides will in all probability take the opportunity to make a deal on denuclearization.

First, both sides should make concessions. Washington should conditionally relieve the extreme pressure it has piled up on Pyongyang, relax its complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) position on the nuclear issue, and ease sanctions against North Korea. In exchange, North Korea should step up nuclear disarmament and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspection.

Second, Washington and Pyongyang should agree on a new road map. To maintain regional peace and international order, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is an unshakable principle. Since Washington does not recognize Beijing’s plan to resolve the Korean nuclear issue, a new road map should be drafted at the summit to plan for North Korea’s denuclearization and the US’ corresponding measures. This is a serious issue involving international ethics and political responsibility, and as well a yardstick for measuring the summit’s outcome.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that possible US concessions may not come about out of consideration for North Korea’s plight. After his administration has been more than halfway, Trump has seen a stagnant denuclearization process. As a former businessman, he will definitely take a new path to improve his diplomatic skills.

The landmark meeting between Trump and Kim in Singapore on June 12 last year was not followed by a smooth denuclearization process. In a single summit, Kim could not figure out whether Washington would end its hostile policy after his country abandoned its nuclear program. The US can tolerate a stalemate and procrastination, but North Korea cannot in the long run. The key to lifting the sanctions against Pyongyang is in the hands of Washington, and Kim must come up with a new plan to reopen the door to better US-North Korea relations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on January 18 that denuclearization “would be a long process,” and discussions as “reduce(ing) North Korea’s capacity to build out their program” are “an important component for…the commitments that were made in Singapore between Chairman Kim and President Trump.” Critics say since after the first meeting North Korea is yet to truly denuclearize as far as giving up weapons and long-range missiles is concerned, the US is probably ready to accept Pyongyang’s phased denuclearization plan.

Kim stated in his 2019 New Year address that “I am always ready to sit together with the U.S. president anytime in the future, and will work hard to produce results welcomed by the international community without fail.” Before Pompeo’s visit to North Korea in early October last year, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that North Korea “will permanently dismantle their nuclear facilities in Yongbyon…in return for America’s corresponding measures, such as the end-of-war declaration.” But beyond that, it seems Pyongyang has not done much like drafting a denuclearization schedule.

Uncertainty remains about whether the second summit will be able to reach a deal. A phased denuclearization proposed by the US – freeze testing, cap arsenals and disarm – won’t be immediately accepted by North Korea. Meanwhile, what Pyongyang cares about – declaration to end the Korean War and replacement of the armistice agreement with a peace treaty – will not be on the agenda of this summit.

In addition, owing to the lack of US consistency over its North Korean policy, it remains unclear how much Trump and the Democrat-controlled Congress value an agreement with Pyongyang. Going by inflammatory remarks of some South Korean conservatives, there is a fear that any agreement reached in the second summit may result in the legalization of North Korea’s nuclear program.”

Comment :

Just how much the article represents Xi’s official line , of course, or also might contain some deliberate disinformation is hard to judge but the tone is to be noted. But it does reinforce the point that, at least on North Korea, the Chinese role has been vital and, at least in parts, constructive even though the issue has become inevitably entangled in the wider US: China tensions on tariffs etc.

Overall it is remarkably more frank and balanced than the usual Chinese commentary. It goes some way to confirming rumours that, during Kim’s recent visit to Beijing, Xi had spoken firmly to him about the need to get on with the negotiations with the Americans. Xi has also been reported to have declined Kim’s request to speed up the diluting of sanctions beyond what had already occurred. Specifically the article argued that :

  • both sides must make concessions – the US should relax its extreme sanctions against the DPRK ( ie. the Complete,Verifiable,Irreversible Denuclearisation CIVD demand) and the DPRK should step up its nuclear disarmament and accept lnternational Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities
  • since Washington has not agreed to the Chinese plan to resolve the situation the two sides must come up with a new “road map” for the phasing of denuclearisation and corresponding US actions. “Kim must come up with a new plan to reopen the door to better US-North Korea relations”.
  • the writer is not optimistic that either side is yet ready to make all these concessions.

It is also of interest that the Chinese academic teaches at Yanbian University in Yanji which is tucked up in the far north eastern border area with North Korea and Russia – an area with a significant ethnic Korean population. When I visited there 20 odd years ago Yanji had all the elements of post WW11 Vienna and the Third Man with both Korean sides very active in the ethnic Korean community and owning hotels, restaurants and bars! The Head of the provincial Communist Party Foreign Affairs Committee complained bitterly that they found it almost impossible to keep tabs on both sets of Koreans – and they had too few Korean speakers!!

A small sting in the tail of the article also reminds us that with the Democrats now running the House Kim has a very different Washington to understand and interact with. We have yet to see what if any moves the House Democrats might make on North Korea and specifically of Trump’s handling of the issue. It also points to the potential difficulties for the ROK President Moon, who has also played an important role in getting things to where they are now, from conservative Korean politicians worried by any security concessions Trump might decide to offer Kim – behind which Moon would be obliged to fall in line.

 Mack Williams

9 February 2019

Former Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea




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