Trump sends mixed messages on North Korea

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/3 0:03:39 Last Updated: 2017/5/3 7:53:06

Solution in the hands of US and North Korea: official

A TV news program shows US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday. South Koreans are bewildered by Trump's recent use of the term "smart cookie" to refer to Kim and by Trump's assertion that he would be "honored" by a possible meeting. Photo: AP


Conflicting statements issued by US President Donald Trump over North Korea on Monday and Tuesday show that the US is responding to China's call for negotiations but is still kicking the ball to North Korea, experts said.

Trump said on Monday he would like to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances, but threatened the use of force, if necessary, on Tuesday.

"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it," Trump said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg, adding that it should be under the right circumstances.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Tuesday that China is aware of the US call to restart negotiations with North Korea, and China always believes that dialogue is the only right choice and workable path to solve the peninsula issue.

Trump's statement is a positive response to China's request of "double suspension" (North Korea suspends nuclear and missile tests, the US suspends military drills), but North Korea is unlikely to create the "right conditions" for the meeting, said Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.

"Right conditions" might be a promise to abandon its nuclear and missile program, or at least a promise to suspend nuclear tests, Lü said. "Although Pyongyang has yet to conduct a new nuclear test, there is no clear promise so far, so the situation remains tense."

However, Trump said on Tuesday during an interview with Fox News that he will not draw the red line for a military solution, but that he would act if he has to. Trump didn't specify what circumstance or conditions are appropriate for the meeting with Kim, and White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said, "Clearly, conditions are not there right now," Reuters reported.

Trump's statements show that the US doesn't want to solve the problem by military means, but if there is no positive response from Pyongyang, then North Korea should be responsible for any potential conflict, Jin Canrong, associate dean of the Department of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, said.

Military pressure

US elites believe North Korea is getting very close to having the capability to launch ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead on US territory, and this is the US' "red line," said Jin.

The previous Obama administration adopted "strategic patience" toward Pyongyang, because the US believed that North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities are still far from the "red line," Jin added.

The US has stepped up military pressure on North Korea. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers took off from Guam on Monday and conducted a nuclear bomb dropping drill over the East Sea of Korea against targets in North Korea.

"A military solution is not Trump's first choice because that would ruin his plan to push domestic reforms in areas like medical care and taxes. Solving the problem in the peninsula politically could create a peaceful external environment for his domestic agenda," said Diao Daming, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In a paper published Tuesday by the Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center, Fu Ying, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress of China, outlined three scenarios on the Korean nuclear issue.

First is "the vicious cycle of US and UN sanctions followed by North Korean nuclear and missile tests until a tipping point is reached." Those who oppose a nuclear-armed North Korea would face a difficult choice of taking extreme actions with unknown consequences, or tolerating it, he said.

Second, "the North Korean regime collapses," which Fu said is unrealistic. And the third is to engage all parties in "talks and serious negotiations, which may ease or even resolve the nuclear issue." The third would be the best choice for everyone, and that a "double suspension" could be a starting point.

Fu also stressed that the key to solving the problem is not in China's hands but in the US' and North Korea's.

However, Fu's point should not be misinterpreted, Jin said. "Although the US and North Korea hold the key, it doesn't mean China is giving up on its role. They caused the problem, but it affects the whole region, so China will keep participating in the solution and play a significant role.

Newspaper headline: Trump sends mixed NK messages


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