Art of the deal unsuitable for North Korean nuke issue

By Li Kaisheng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/9 18:03:40

After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's just-concluded trip to North Korea, contrasting comments have been made by the two countries on the progress of talks to carry out the agreement reached during the June 12 summit in Singapore.

As he departed for Tokyo, Pompeo said Saturday he had made progress on "almost all of the central issues." But North Korea's Foreign Ministry said that the outcome of the talks was "very concerning" and has led to a "dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearization that had been firm."

Which of the two statements can better describe the meeting? Pyongyang's statement may be closer to the reality because North Korea and the US had differed significantly on the steps and verification of denuclearization and no signs suggest that concessions were made.

On the contrary, the statement indicates that the US insists on the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization while North Korea wants phased and simultaneous measures.

Pompeo must be having a reason to make such positive comments. Since US President Donald Trump's administration sees the Singapore summit as a huge success for engaging North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pompeo doesn't want to play spoilsport. The North Korean statement, which reaffirms the trust on Trump, has kept options open for further talks.

It's now up to the Trump administration to decide the next steps. The recent changes on the Korean Peninsula suggest that the US can to some degree suppress North Korea by creating undue pressure, but it cannot expect to thereby force Pyongyang to denuclearize in full compliance with US conditions. Denuclearization can be achieved when the US and North Korea abandon nuclear weapons for security and set up a new peace mechanism that can replace the armistice. Otherwise, North Korea won't abandon nuclear weapons - either in a phased manner or at one go.

Regrettably the US has not provided a clear plan in this regard. On the contrary, some voices within the country insist that any policy on North Korea be approved by the Congress and the subject of US troops stationed in South Korea should be out of the ambit of the talks. This will only weaken Pyongyang's faith in Trump's promise and dampen its hope for future negotiations.

Instead of simply using force, a grand strategy thinking by Washington is needed to make Pyongyang come around to the idea of denuclearization. The Trump administration needs to drop its so-called art of the deal that advocates maximum pressure and caprice. Instead, it has to act bold by making a compromise or striking deals with Pyongyang to work out a clear plan on security guarantee, arrangement for denuclearization and the peace mechanism on the peninsula. If the destination is clear, the choice of a path will be easier.

In terms of formulating a grand strategy, the US has to see the nuclear issue from the viewpoint of its entire East Asia strategy, particularly Sino-US relations, and lay a solid foundation for international cooperation to facilitate denuclearization. The nuclear issue is primarily a point of contention between the US and North Korea, but the resolution of it concerns the interest of every country in East Asia. The problem should be considered in relation to the security and peace of East Asia as a whole.

However, the US has recently launched a trade war against China in spite of several rounds of bilateral negotiations and is playing tricks over the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue. This will only deepen China's strategic distrust, roil the waters for bilateral security cooperation and eventually torpedo the resolution of the North Korea issue.

The Trump administration may believe that it can coerce China to surrender over trade and have China's cooperation over the nuclear issue. But China is not what Japan was, when Tokyo was forced by Washington to open up its market. Nor is China like other US partners who are available at its beck and call.

If the Trump administration continues recklessly pressuring China and playing tricks with North Korea, Beijing will have to go after its goals in its own way to protect its security and economic interests on international issues such as North Korea and trade with the US. Pyongyang will likely halt the hard-won start of the denuclearization process.

By then what would have the US gained? What can it do? The Trump administration needs to contemplate.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Newspaper headline: Art of the deal unsuitable for NK nuke issue


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