Australia-Indonesia-US Trilateral Dialogue
After Kim-Trump Summit, what’s next?
The Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore has added important momentum for peace in the Korean peninsula. Against low expectations, and despite worries about the two leaders’ unpredictable nature, both Trump and Kim are able to return home claiming “success”.
That the Summit meeting took place was an extraordinary event. The notion that a US President would travel half way around the world to meet a North Korean leader had been an unthinktable notion in American diplomacy. But Trump always sees himself as a game-changer and loves defying convention.
Ditto for Kim Jong Un. At his young age of 34, since January this year he has confidently undertaken proactive diplomatic moves — towards China, South Korea, and the US — to reposition North Korea in regional affairs.
Kim stated in Singapore : “We are leaving the past behind and look forward to a great future” — a statement unlikely to be heard from his late father or grand father.
Given the risks and concessions he has taken, it seems that Kim is serious in his present diplomatic efforts. All this does not mean smooth sailing ahead. Difficult policy questions — and hard decisions — lie ahead.
The Korean conflict, after all, is arguably the world’s longest standing, most complicated and most dangerous post-World War 2 situation. There will be no easy fix.
Critics have pointed out that the the joint statement were too normative. It is true that it did not contain any details on how North Korea would achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) and only reaffirming what has been made in the Panmunjom Declaration.
Yet, we must keep in mind that the significance of this first historic Summit is always to set a course and principle for the peace process forward. The Trump – Kim Summit should not be bogged down in details — that will be the job of the American and North Korean negotiators in future negotiations.
The danger is that it is always possible that North Korea would reverse course and call the whole thing off, especially if they think that they are getting the shorter end of the stick.
Thus, it would be wise not to overlook the importance of face and pride in DPRK’s decision-making. Kim must be made to feel that the risks and concessions he has made are well worth the rewards at the end of the day–whatever that may be.
At the very least, DPRK would expect the gradual easing of sanctions as a measure of international approval for its new course. Following a string of diplomatic mishaps, DPRK is also expected to seek to rebound her relations with Asian countries, especially with those in ASEAN.
What is absolutely critical is for the leaders of the US, South Korea and North Korea to patiently develop the triangular trust and confidence among them. Trust, after all, is a key factor in all conflict resolution processes.
The chemistry between Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-In seems to be growing positively. The Trump-Kim personal relations, given their impulsive personalities, might be more challenging but nonetheless necessary to push the peace process forward.
President Xi Jinping’s role will also be important, because Beijing does not want to be left out and wants to make sure whatever deal is struck will not undermine China’s interest.
At some point, the picture would be more complete if Kim Jong Un – Shinzo Abe Summit can also take place. This would be possible if Kim delivers on his promise, made at Singapore Summit, regarding the remaining Japanese abductees in North Korea — a bottom line issue for Japan
From now on, it seems clear that there are 2 major goals in the Korean peninsula : reunification and denuclearization. Which will come first remain to be seen? But the circumstances, dynamics, and chemistry to achieve them are now changing. The process will require more meetings, more communication, more initiatives, more restraint, more confidence building, and more thinking outside the box.
It is unrealistic to expect to resolve all aspects of the Korean conflict rapidly in the near future. What is realistic is to expect the situation to stabilize and for the conflict to become much more manageable than ever before.
* The writer is the Director of Special Projects and Institutional Relations at FPCI. He visited North Korea last April 2018 with other Asian Scholars and Experts.