Waffling on summit dents US image

By Wang Peng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/28 21:18:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The capricious nature of the Korean Peninsula crisis has peaked as US President Donald Trump decided to call off the June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the same day North Korea dismantled the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and then did a dramatic about-face telling reporters that the date and location of the summit "hasn't changed."

Trump's decision to cancel the meeting was mere posturing to force North Korea to accept the US' denuclearization plan. He thought of uniting US hawks to be harsh on Pyongyang, getting rid of the impression that he was being hoodwinked by Kim.

Trump's unilateral cancellation gave the high moral ground to Pyongyang. As North Korea destroyed the nuclear site on the same day Washington cancelled the summit, this has turned international opinion in Pyongyang's favor. Trump has gone back on his decision of scrapping the meeting, giving more proof of his unpredictable nature to the international community.

On the contrary, North Korea's reactions deserve praise for consistency as it has not used harsh words during the latest hubbub. Pyongyang kept up contacts with Beijing and also held a second summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom on Saturday in an attempt to consolidate ties with Seoul. If North Korea continues to holds talks and cooperates with China, South Korea and Russia while keeping its word of abandoning nuclear weapons in a phased manner, the summit may bring results.

For China, Trump's capricious moves increase uncertainty and make the region unstable, affecting Beijing's diplomacy in its neighborhood.  Recently, the US administration and media said that Beijing was to blame for the new harsh tone of Pyongyang. This may be used by the US in future to raise pressure on China in other fields in the name of Beijing's inadequate cooperation on the peninsula issue.

On the other hand, Trump's unpredictable diplomacy strengthens China's say over the peninsula issue. Although the US-North Korea summit will likely be held, the twist has largely dampened the enthusiasm of the international community, including North Korea's anticipation.

Washington and Pyongyang appear to have restored communications, but their mutual distrust has risen, pushing North Korea to depend more on Beijing strategically. The trust deficit between the US and North Korea and differences in the modes of abandoning nuclear weapons may give China an opportunity to have an upper hand over the issue.

The improved relationship between China and North Korea has transformed the unfavorable situation for China. In the future, as Washington steps up pressure on Pyongyang, North Korea will need China more and Beijing's influence on the peninsula issue will grow.

But in the meantime, South Korea's strategic position may have been jeopardized. In the past, Seoul hesitated on the way North Korea should denuclearize. It probably agrees with the US to force Pyongyang to give up nukes under the Libya model. This will make Pyongyang suspicious and China can get involved in the four-party talks as a notary and sponsor. This will derail South Korea's plan to sideline China and have three-party talks.

The decision to waffle over the meeting has brought more harm than benefit to US interests and the Trump administration. Trump's reckless backtracking has dented the US' international strategic credibility, which is vital to the US being a super power.

Pyongyang's recent pronouncements have been mild and lacked the aggressiveness they are known for. If North Korea increases coordination with the surrounding big powers, it can fend off US pressure or even military action. With the US' confrontation with China and Russia exacerbating, its regional security policies will see more differences with South Korea.

US stocks dived as Trump cancelled the meeting, forcing him to calm down the markets. If Trump brings more uncertainty to international issues, he will jeopardize the US' credibility in the global community and lose faith among his people, which will be disastrous.

The author is associate research fellow with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China and the Charhar Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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