What will a Kim-Trump summit achieve?

By Jin Kai Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/12 19:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


On March 7, an article in The New York Times noted that Kim Jong-un, the mysterious North Korean leader, had revealed his "diplomatic skills." Two days later, after Chung Eui-yong, South Korea's national security adviser, delivered Kim's personal invitation, US President Donald Trump accepted Kim's invitation to meet before May 2018.

In fact, the world has long wished and even prayed for a summit between these two leaders, both of whom are quite outstanding for their unique styles. Nevertheless, even as the two leaders finally agreed to meet, there are still doubts and suspicions mixed with relief and expectation in the media and the public. Some sympathize with China's seeming awkwardness after being excluded from this ongoing process, which is understandable but unnecessary. The reason is clear: The cause of the problem in the Korean Peninsula and the key to unlocking it have never been in China's pocket.

When Cuba and the US finally re-established diplomatic relations a few years ago, I came up with a short commentary on the peninsula issue suggesting the possibility of Pyongyang's sudden bow to Washington, indicating a quick change in Kim's attitude was an approach to realize his actually unchanged goals.

Of course, there is still a possibility that the meeting might just be blown off, given the delicate situation and the acting styles of these two leaders. Still the prospective summit may prove that President Trump holds a trump card: simply that North Korea has been desperate to establish diplomatic relations with the US. It may prove that this held true when North Korea was acting badly by testing its nukes or even when Pyongyang now acts good by promising to stop tests and suggests a meeting.

Does this prove Kim's strategic patience and diplomatic skills? Probably yes, but it more proves that in the rather unbalanced wrestling match between Pyongyang and Washington, even the smaller competitor may have his own deadly blow, which however he dare not use.

In previous decades, North Korea had been entangled in an enduring game with the US, mobilizing almost all its national resources, whereas for the US, North Korea issue was just one of a number of issues on its diplomatic agenda.

Obviously this has been a rather asymmetric game and it is not quite appropriate to conclude that Kim Jong-un now has the upper hand. Rather, this is more like the natural outcome of another powerplay framed by the US. If I may quote Georgetown University professor and CSIS Korea Chair Victor Cha's comment on the US logic behind the construction of a bilateral alliance system in East Asia, the point is that those who hold nukes do not necessarily hold the trump card, and those who successfully denuclearize others do.

Still the prospective summit is a true breakthrough that brings hope for major change in contemporary world politics. If that happens, it will be a relief for all involved parties including China that has invested too much in the lasting conundrum. For all parties, positive changes in the right direction are always better than nothing but deadlock.

The author is research fellow, Yonsei Institute for Sinology, Yonsei University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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