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    The Kim-Trump summit: high risks, high stakes
    China Watch | Updated: 2018-06-08 17:10

    Related: Empathy is the key to Singapore summit

    The Kim-Trump summit: high risks, high stakes

    Fran?ois Godement 

    It has been an eventful lead up to the Singapore meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Some call it a rollercoaster ride. Others underline the complexity ahead – from denuclearization to a peace treaty and the issue of sanctions.

    A single meeting will not be sufficient. Reducing expectations seems prudent. Yet it is the buildup of positive expectations that has played a role in making this summit possible.

    From Kim Jong-un’s resuming of contacts with the Republic of Korea, the delaying of the US-ROK joint military exercises, and Donald Trump’s surprise acceptance of a meeting, to the détente between the two Koreas at Panmunjom, and DPRK’s show of destroying its northern nuclear test site, hope has risen against all odds from previous decades.

    This is nowhere as visible as in ROK, where the government of President Moon Jae-in enjoys massive support for promoting peace. We can only speculate on the impact inside DPRK of announcements regarding the first such meeting with the US in nearly 80 years, and the adoption of economic development as the country’s overriding goal. Both the US president and the DPRK leader will bear the weight of these expectations.

    Yet expectations have always been frustrated by past developments on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK’s single-minded pursuit of a nuclear and ballistic agenda has always derailed any agreement on these issues – from the 1992 declaration on denuclearization of the peninsula to the 2012 moratorium on nuclear and missile testing. For its part the DPRK has often suffered from changes in US domestic politics that diminished the benefits of implementing its commitments.

    In any conflict there are two sides for the same story, and what matters is the conclusion: agreements, whether with ROK or the US, fell apart after the very first steps – and in 2012, over a matter of weeks. Trust had disappeared, so much so that the main issue from which the Singapore summit will be judged is the actual sequencing of concessions by each side. 

    Frontloading, e.g., achieving the maximum number of immediate or early deliverables is the US approach. Phased and synchronized measures is the DPRK's request. Yet the Panmunjom North-South meeting has resulted in a pledge to achieve a peace treaty by the end of this year.

    A peace treaty is not merely an inter-Korean political development: it involves parties to the 1953 armistice, including China and the United Nations. It is hardly compatible with international sanctions – and the lifting of these is contingent on denuclearization.

    As much as the peace treaty is an essential part of achieving regime security for the DPRK, it requires large and rapid concessions on the issues of denuclearization.

    At the same time, informal US statements do recognize that denuclearization, even laying aside relevant issues such as military deployments around the Korean Peninsula, stationing of troops and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), is not achievable quickly in a credible way on the side of the DPRK.

    Verification is a very difficult process, independently of the issue of trust. After South Africa admitted in 1993 to a past nuclear weapons program, it took years to verify actual dismantlement of its past and remaining capacities. 

    If the Singapore summit is to succeed, major concessions will have to be made by DPRK first. It is after all the party that had broken away from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been singled out by numerous resolutions of the UN. Yet immediate denuclearization is meaningless – and the US and other parties cannot delay their own concessions to the very end of the denuclearization process.

    What lies in between is the subject of the Singapore summit, inseparable from verification. A dispassionate assessment would seem to indicate the following order: dismantling missiles first, starting with long range and the development of solid fuel propellers, and later with other categories.

    The ROK’s current lack of insistence on dismantling short-range missiles has a draw-back for China, however: it makes less likely an early withdrawal of the THAAD anti-missile system from ROK.

    Resuming International Atomic Energy Agency control of the DPRK’s plutonium reactors comes next – it is a known process. Beyond these steps, dismantling uranium enrichment equipment or verifying its exclusively civilian use is a daunting task, given that DPRK has been singularly effective for years at hiding its entire set up.

    Making sure all nuclear warheads are accounted for is equally difficult. Accounting for, and checking, the scientific personnel that has made DPRK’s program possible is an even longer term process, likely requiring a major opening up and reform of the country. The above does not even take into account another feature of the DPRK’s past programs – cooperation with, and proliferation to other countries.

    The US at the Singapore meeting will have to make their own commitments on its sanctions – and on inducements to the DPRK. They should later be joined by other parties to the additional sanction regimes – the European Union and Japan. But the immediate issue in front of the Singapore summit is coordination with China on the UN sanction issue.

    Both the US and China could defeat their own purposes by competing with each other. If the US refuses the early lifting of any sanctions, it removes incentives for the DPRK to make concessions. But the more China would ease up on its implementation of sanctions decided by the UN, the more it becomes possible for DPRK to turn away an agreement, or to renege on it. 

    The stability of the region, an end to the risks of conflict, and the future of 26 million people inside DPRK, should not be held hostage to balancing games, or to great power competition. A very important aspect of the Singapore summit is what will not be seen on its stage – the degree to which China and the US can cooperate in their approach to the DPRK. 

    Fran?ois Godement is director of Asia program of the ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). He contributes this article exclusively to China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

    Singapore summit: The historical mission and cultural challenge facing Trump

    Jean-Philippe Raynaud

    The diplomatic opening of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, after years of closure and defiance, has marked observers with its suddenness and intensity, illustrated by the summits of Beijing, Panmunjom, Dalian and soon Singapore.

    Body language spoke loud and clear. The symbols and personal gestures between DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President of Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in, signs of sincerity and personal appreciation in the Asian culture, were numerous.

    Kim appears as a mature, empathic leader, mastering the agenda and protocol of state visits: a new image for the whole world that considers the Korean Peninsula as one of the major risks of possible war since the end of the Cold War.

    The June 12 meeting is a new gear in this diplomatic acceleration. It is the next milestone for the inclusion of DPRK in the international dialogue, obviously expected by ROK, China and Japan before they can go forward themselves with the real process at their regional scale.

    For a United States president who appreciates straight forward messages and strong signs, it would nevertheless be advisable to show some restraint. The meeting in Singapore is certainly an important stage, but not yet an achievement which will have to associate all actors of a new dynamic in Northeast Asia. In any case, it should not be limited to a bargain between denuclearization versus relaxing economic sanctions.

    On April 27, the two Korean leaders showed the world the symbolic and emotional signs of an ability to speak and work together. The cultural and ideological proximity also allowed a restoration of trust and shared visions between Kim and Xi that their geographical vicinity and political sense may easily entail.

    The cultural and intellectual gap between Kim and Donald Trump is much larger. Beyond the difference of language, the two leaders will have to bridge a gap in mindset, emotional content, historical background and a virgin history of common talks. Despite his education in Europe, it is the first time for Kim to meet a Western leader. Trump’s experience in handling highly sensitive negotiations in Asia is limited. Both will have to learn to know each other.

    The historical perspective, which conditions DPRK and the US perceive, remains the essential element of the background of this summit while a change in the course of history and a paradigm shift are at stake.

    Northeast Asia has not experienced the process of reconciliation that occurred in Europe at the end of World War II (we can compare the handshake of Kim and Moon over a tiny step of concrete in Panmunjom to that where then French President Fran?ois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl joined hands in Verdun in 1984).

    The geopolitics of Asian countries was built in their own dynamics to reach the current balance that has not settled the grievances of the past. To date, it can be said that there is still not any full and truly independent regional geopolitics and diplomacy that would allow Northeast Asian countries to discuss directly with each other and make progress in their common history.

    To this regard, the paradigm shift that is taking place is certainly an opportunity not to miss for China, Japan, the Koreas and other countries of the region to enter a new stage in their relations.

    One of the key challenges of the discussion between the US and DPRK is to define in the same way what is the “denuclearization of Korea”, a concept that will obviously have to be endorsed in the same terms by China, Japan and South Korea.

    Let’s recall that regardless of the nation, the possession of nuclear weapons falls within the framework of a doctrine, made to fit a paradigm. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would mark a change of doctrine by the Pyongyang regime that could only result from a change of the geopolitical paradigm and thus the role of the US in Korea. 

    It is this new paradigm, which goes beyond the US and DPRK, that Trump and Kim have the responsibility to define and integrate in their discussions.

    The best way to engage the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in a sense that all concerned countries can adhere to, is undoubtedly the rapid signing of a comprehensive peace treaty, ratified by each of these countries. As any peace treaty in international law, it would include the recognition of the institutions of all countries and the conditions of their economic and political relations.

    This diplomatic opening of DPRK has obviously its domestic political counterpart. We can see Kim and DPRK representatives leading the talks and preparing the meetings. However, we do not see yet how this dramatic move will be translated into the internal institutional, economic, and social system of DPRK.

    If the US and China remain tutelary guarantors of security in Korea, it will also be necessary for the US to admit that Korean reconciliation belongs first and foremost to Koreans.

    Let us not forget that the two Koreas are two states but one nation, one people, one culture. Although the ideology and violent history of the 20th century led to their separation, they share the same language, the same cultural fundamentals and the same deep human springs.

    The inter-Korean agreement is the basis of the policy of cooperation, development and openness that will accompany the emergence of DPRK as a stable and peaceful state. 

    Trump will probably be tempted to make some announcement at the end of the summit, probably triggered by the excitement of Western media, and to associate the success of the summit to his hardline policy (no doubt it will be a success since it is well prepared). It would contrast with the restraint of China and Japan, though active and concerned parties, which abstain from statements that could disturb the preparation of the June 12 event.

    Be that as it may, the success of this political and diplomatic phase will be total only when South Korea, China and Japan officially endorse its outcome and engage in direct geopolitical cooperation.

    Last but not least – the author of these lines being French – it would be time for France, the only permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations and one of the two members of the European Union (with Estonia) not to maintain diplomatic relations with DPRK, to mark its support to the process in course by establishing them without delay.

    Jean-Philippe Raynaud works for a French multinational company in the energy sector. He has been a general manager on the Korean Peninsula and China for several years. He contributes this article exclusively to China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

    Related: Empathy is the key to Singapore summit

    The Kim-Trump summit: high risks, high stakes

    Fran?ois Godement 

    It has been an eventful lead up to the Singapore meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Some call it a rollercoaster ride. Others underline the complexity ahead – from denuclearization to a peace treaty and the issue of sanctions.

    A single meeting will not be sufficient. Reducing expectations seems prudent. Yet it is the buildup of positive expectations that has played a role in making this summit possible.

    From Kim Jong-un’s resuming of contacts with the Republic of Korea, the delaying of the US-ROK joint military exercises, and Donald Trump’s surprise acceptance of a meeting, to the détente between the two Koreas at Panmunjom, and DPRK’s show of destroying its northern nuclear test site, hope has risen against all odds from previous decades.

    This is nowhere as visible as in ROK, where the government of President Moon Jae-in enjoys massive support for promoting peace. We can only speculate on the impact inside DPRK of announcements regarding the first such meeting with the US in nearly 80 years, and the adoption of economic development as the country’s overriding goal. Both the US president and the DPRK leader will bear the weight of these expectations.

    Yet expectations have always been frustrated by past developments on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK’s single-minded pursuit of a nuclear and ballistic agenda has always derailed any agreement on these issues – from the 1992 declaration on denuclearization of the peninsula to the 2012 moratorium on nuclear and missile testing. For its part the DPRK has often suffered from changes in US domestic politics that diminished the benefits of implementing its commitments.

    In any conflict there are two sides for the same story, and what matters is the conclusion: agreements, whether with ROK or the US, fell apart after the very first steps – and in 2012, over a matter of weeks. Trust had disappeared, so much so that the main issue from which the Singapore summit will be judged is the actual sequencing of concessions by each side. 

    Frontloading, e.g., achieving the maximum number of immediate or early deliverables is the US approach. Phased and synchronized measures is the DPRK's request. Yet the Panmunjom North-South meeting has resulted in a pledge to achieve a peace treaty by the end of this year.

    A peace treaty is not merely an inter-Korean political development: it involves parties to the 1953 armistice, including China and the United Nations. It is hardly compatible with international sanctions – and the lifting of these is contingent on denuclearization.

    As much as the peace treaty is an essential part of achieving regime security for the DPRK, it requires large and rapid concessions on the issues of denuclearization.

    At the same time, informal US statements do recognize that denuclearization, even laying aside relevant issues such as military deployments around the Korean Peninsula, stationing of troops and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), is not achievable quickly in a credible way on the side of the DPRK.

    Verification is a very difficult process, independently of the issue of trust. After South Africa admitted in 1993 to a past nuclear weapons program, it took years to verify actual dismantlement of its past and remaining capacities. 

    If the Singapore summit is to succeed, major concessions will have to be made by DPRK first. It is after all the party that had broken away from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been singled out by numerous resolutions of the UN. Yet immediate denuclearization is meaningless – and the US and other parties cannot delay their own concessions to the very end of the denuclearization process.

    What lies in between is the subject of the Singapore summit, inseparable from verification. A dispassionate assessment would seem to indicate the following order: dismantling missiles first, starting with long range and the development of solid fuel propellers, and later with other categories.

    The ROK’s current lack of insistence on dismantling short-range missiles has a draw-back for China, however: it makes less likely an early withdrawal of the THAAD anti-missile system from ROK.

    Resuming International Atomic Energy Agency control of the DPRK’s plutonium reactors comes next – it is a known process. Beyond these steps, dismantling uranium enrichment equipment or verifying its exclusively civilian use is a daunting task, given that DPRK has been singularly effective for years at hiding its entire set up.

    Making sure all nuclear warheads are accounted for is equally difficult. Accounting for, and checking, the scientific personnel that has made DPRK’s program possible is an even longer term process, likely requiring a major opening up and reform of the country. The above does not even take into account another feature of the DPRK’s past programs – cooperation with, and proliferation to other countries.

    The US at the Singapore meeting will have to make their own commitments on its sanctions – and on inducements to the DPRK. They should later be joined by other parties to the additional sanction regimes – the European Union and Japan. But the immediate issue in front of the Singapore summit is coordination with China on the UN sanction issue.

    Both the US and China could defeat their own purposes by competing with each other. If the US refuses the early lifting of any sanctions, it removes incentives for the DPRK to make concessions. But the more China would ease up on its implementation of sanctions decided by the UN, the more it becomes possible for DPRK to turn away an agreement, or to renege on it. 

    The stability of the region, an end to the risks of conflict, and the future of 26 million people inside DPRK, should not be held hostage to balancing games, or to great power competition. A very important aspect of the Singapore summit is what will not be seen on its stage – the degree to which China and the US can cooperate in their approach to the DPRK. 

    Fran?ois Godement is director of Asia program of the ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). He contributes this article exclusively to China Watch.

    All rights reserved. Copying or sharing of any content for other than personal use is prohibited without prior written permission.

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