The face-to-face summit between the presidents of North Korea and the US in May will be an extraordinary moment in history. Nobody had thought that this meeting would take place. The world was on the verge of a nuclear war a few months back when there was continuous tussle between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
In the meanwhile, the efforts being made by regional powers, such as China and South Korea, to initiate peace talks are going to be meaningful in this context. The programme of maximum pressure against North Korea, which was launched by the Trump administration along with a number of UN sanctions, compelled Kim Jong-un to agree to hold talks.
The ‘little rocket man’ is now on a peace mission. This suggests that he is prepared for greater engagement on his country’s nuclear issue. In this regard, he made his first international visit to China last week since he assumed power in 2011. This visit was, indeed, a landmark moment. This is because the North Korean president agreed to denuclearise his country’s weapons programme when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It must be noted that China and North Korea had strong relations with each other until the latter started its nuclear weapons programme. In retaliation, China suspended iron ore and coal imports from North Korea. As a result, North Korea’s overall trade declined by more than 10 percent in 2017. This was a major setback for the North Korea’s economy. Therefore, Kim’s visit to China is seen as a positive development ahead of the Trump-Kim summit.
Trump’s reaction to the Xi-Kim meeting came soon after in the form of a Twitter message: “For years and through many administrations everyone said that peace and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong-un will do what is right for his people and humanity. Look forward to our meeting”.
With this message, US President Trump has tried to give the impression that his government is capable of doing what other administrations before him couldn’t even have imagined. The most positive aspect of Trump-Kim meeting would be the realisation on both sides that dialogue is only way to reduce the tension and a war of words will only heighten hostilities.
In the past, a fierce verbal onslaught remained inevitable on both sides. In 2017, North Korea fired 20 missiles, including three ICBMs, and conducted its sixth nuclear test, about which it claimed it had achieved its strategic goals. North Korea conducted its first ICBM test on July 4 last year. In response to that, President Trump tweeted that: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”
Interestingly, Kim responded on Twitter: “… the test was a ‘gift’ to ‘American *%$##*’ on their Independence Day. A rather aggressive North Korea conducted its second ICBM test at the end of July last year. This resulted in President Trump indirectly threatening to take military action against North Korea. He said that if the country continued its provocations, they would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
Moreover, North Korea threatened to launch its missiles in the US island of Guam where thousands of American soldiers are stationed. The relationship became further strained when Trump, in his first speech to UN General Assembly, said that the “little rocket man” was on a suicide mission. He also threatened to completely destroy the North Korea. In response, President Kim said: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.
Such statements from both leaders generated the risk of miscalculations that could have led to a nuclear war. Therefore, the upcoming meeting between these leaders is highly important. President Trump’s policy is to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula and he will make it clear to President Kim that he wants him to give up his nuclear programme.
The question that arises is: will these demands be accepted by President Kim? This will be a million-dollar question. It seems obvious that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons because it is the only leverage it possesses and will, therefore, not surrender it so easily. However, denuclearisation to a certain degree and promise to freeze its nuclear development in future are likely to be accepted by the North Korean leader.
On the contrary, the US will probably insist upon the denuclearisation otherwise sanctions will remain intact. North Korea is likely to demand the withdrawal of 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea and a security deal that resembles the agreement that has been extended to Japan and South Korea. America’s position is still unclear and unpredictable if such demands are put forward by President Kim. But President Trump’s national security teams will also be analysing this situation.
Another crucial development is the appointment a new national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton, who has been exceedingly critical of North Korea’s nuclear programme. Given his earlier statements regarding North Korea, his role is likely to be important. Also of significance is that the fact that Bolton is the man who is still in the favour of Iraq’s invasion and is also in favour of taking military action against North Korea.
China and South Korea should play their respective roles to make this meeting successful as both countries are against the Korean nuclear programme because they consider it to be a threat to regional peace and stability.
The years of tensions, sanctions and nuclear tests are now being replaced by the promise of dialogue and negotiations. This will be significant in ensuring peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the world as a whole. If negotiations fail, there are chances of an all-out war. Therefore, the dialogue between both countries must persist without any hindrances to avoid any future disasters.
The writer is a PhD scholar at University of Sindh.