Frog in the pot: Stalemate between North Korea and US

By Wang Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/23 18:28:33


Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

North Korea has called the US' recent decision to put North Korean officials including Choe Ryong-hae, considered a right-hand man to leader Kim Jong-un on a sanction list "an unpardonable political provocation." Previously, the delay of the second US-North Korea summit has made the two sides point an accusing finger at each other, leading to more uncertainties in bilateral relations. Those that were once optimistic are not growing more rational, holding the opinion that North Korea should act prudently when facing the US' "boiling-frog" tactics.

US President Donald Trump has said there is no timetable when it comes to North Korea's renunciation of nuclear weapons. "I think we are really going to do something that is very important, but we are not playing the time game. If takes two years three years, or five months. It doesn't matter," he has said.

Since Pyongyang's nuclear tests have been halted and sanctions on North Korea are still in place, the US is not in a rush to push North Korea to renounce its nuclear weapon program. After the mid-term elections, Trump told reporters at a White House press conference, "We're in no rush. We're in no hurry. The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home. The great heroes are home."

He even bragged that progresses made over the past four or five months have surpassed those made over the previous 70 years, mentioning a possible meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un early next year.

The international community is concerned whether Trump has changed his approach to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and whether this issue has been downgraded in the US' diplomatic agenda. The international community is confused about the US' intent behind its delaying strategy.

Different sides interpret denuclearization quite differently, hardly seeing eye to eye. After the first US-North Korea summit in June, Trump promised to guarantee North Korea's security and Kim reiterated unwavering commitment to "complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula."

North Korea reaffirmed the Panmunjom Declaration issued on April 27 and promised to realize complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. If complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula still has a long way to go then it's wise not to set up a timetable or "roadmap." If, however, denuclearization in North Korea is to be realized instead, a timetable and "roadmap" are most assuredly needed. So achieving a consensus on whether the goal is denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula or in North Korea is the first step that should be taken.

Denuclearization of North Korea is a vital part of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, the primary question lies in reaching a consensus on the essence of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The problem is that the US has set as a prerequisite that North Korea denounce nuclear weapons before any steps are taken, while North Korea wants a peace treaty.

North Korea sees this as the first step to easing tensions and establishing a peace-building mechanism.

The two are now trapped in a dead end. The US should compromise when necessary and sign the peace treaty while lifting sanctions. If North Korea doesn't act in accordance with the timetable or roadmap, the US can always tighten sanctions or take tougher measure to solve the problem.

Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a long-standing and complicated issue and fragile relations between the US and North Korea have caused the former to adopt a slow "boiling frog" strategy. We must remain rational when dealing with this situation.

First, we should be prepared to put in significant and continued effort over the long term. Second, we should avoid impatience, since this issue cannot be solved for good by holding several summits. Going forward, countries in Northeast Asia should join hands when dealing with difficulties and avoid extreme actions.

The author is a professor at the College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University.

Newspaper headline: Frog in the pot: N.Korea-US logjam continues

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