Sanctions relief key to moving denuclearization forward

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/20 20:07:11

The second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place "near the end of February," the White House said on Friday, though the location is yet to be announced.

Meeting with Trump again was articulated in Kim's New Year address, but what is more noticeable is that a great deal of his speech was focused on the state of North Korea's economy. For Kim and his country, it is sanctions relief and economic development that matter most.

Now that North Korea is prioritizing the economy, Kim is expected to make moves to overcome sanctions. Inter-Korean cooperation is one of Kim's goals this year. He cited tourism and manufacturing projects with South Korea, which offers clues into what fields may require sanctions' exemptions. 

As North Korea's neighbor, South Korea has already pushed for sanction exemptions to restart dormant cooperation projects with the North, even at the risk of upsetting its ally the US. In late December, the two Koreas staged a ground-breaking ceremony to upgrade severed rail links, with sanctions relief from the UN needed to start construction.

Meanwhile, analysts stressed Beijing's importance to Pyongyang's economic goals. Some consulting firms have already assessed Pyongyang's need for infrastructure, an issue on which China can offer help. But again, sanctions will be hurdles for the two to advance cooperation, and the nuclear issue is the key. 

China encourages high-level engagement between the US and North Korea and would like to contribute to the denuclearization process. China backs denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, calls for easing sanctions on Pyongyang and supports economic development of the country.

The second summit between Trump and Kim will be a step forward. The first was undoubtedly historic, the first-ever encounter between leaders of two nations which long saw each other as adversaries. But it was also believed to be no more than symbolic: The agreement they signed did not provide meaningful details and afterwards denuclearization stalled.

Washington has maintained pressure on Pyongyang through isolation and sanctions. The US-backed sanctions against North Korea's economy remain one of the major stumbling blocks for the meeting between Trump and Kim. North Korea has made clear that it expects to get at least some penalties lifted. In his New Year's address, Kim warned of a "new path" if the US doesn't ease off. But after the Friday announcement, the White House said that Trump would maintain economic sanctions on North Korea. 

The issues are complex, and at this juncture, a second summit is worthwhile to address the concerns of both sides and break the stalemate. North Korea should make concrete denuclearization steps and Washington should apprehend Pyongyang's demand for sanctions relief, economic development and an end to maximum pressure.

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