Failed US-North Korea Summit & Korean Peninsula Developments

2019/03/17 | Opinion

Strategic Council Online: The second US-North Korean summit ended in Vietnam without a clear conclusion and agreement. The main question occupying the minds of analysts is whether this summit meeting is the end of the first step of the two countries in trying diplomacy. Or is the end of diplomacy between the United States and North Korea due to the continuation of negotiations because of differences in approaches? Assadollah Kaveh - East Asia Affairs Expert

The crisis in the Korean Peninsula has been one of the major and unresolved issues of the geostrategic region of Northeast Asia and the international system for seventy years. The six actors in the region, namely North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia have made extensive efforts to solve the problem but to no avail! It can be assumed that the issue of the Peninsula, in addition to the bilateral problems between the two Koreas, has been turned into a subject between China and the United States and the show of power by the two countries.

Taking a macro look at the issues of the Peninsula, it is important to pay attention to the following points:

  1. Following the election of Donald Trump as the US president, and with regard to the withdrawal of Washington from multilateral agreements such as Iran’s Nuclear Deal (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) , the Paris Treaty on Climate Change and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), negotiations with North Korea and the resolution of the Peninsula crisis has become a crucial issue for the American statesmen and they are trying to influence the American public opinion for the 2020 election.
  2. Following China’s support for the UN sanctions against Pyongyang, the completion of the nuclear and hydrogen test cycle, the reliable missile capability and admission of North Korea’s de facto nuclear capability by the United States, Kim Jong-un has come to believe that in order to make economic progress and achieve development he requires normalization of relations with the world and the lifting of the sanctions, and the current situation, given the personality traits of Trump (negating collective collaboration, exaggeration and belief in big business ventures and business-minded approaches) is ripe more than ever.
  3. Although since 2011, when Kim Jong-un came to power, Beijing and Pyongyang have faced barriers in their relations, China has always been the only supporter of North Korea. There has been a mutual need for relations between Beijing and Pyongyang to the extent that observers believe that North Korea coordinates all details of the negotiations with the United States with the Chinese side (the presence of North Korea’s deputy foreign minister on February 28 in Beijing and his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, right at a time that news reports spoke of the failure of the Trump-Kim talks is proof to this claim. Hence, as noted, China’s cooperation with the UN in its anti-Pyongyang sanctions has played a key role in changing North Korea’s approach to normalizing its relations with the outside world.

It must be noted that it is unacceptable for China to see a 180-degree shift in North Korea’s position and its turning into a base for investment and presence of the United States and its allies. Beijing prefers to maintain its political and strategic influence over Pyongyang in contrast with the common speculations on the Vietnam model of development for North Korea and take over the intact investment and consumer goods market exclusively.

  1. As for the Peninsula, three main issues are of interest to analysts and decision-makers: the consequences of North Korea’s nuclear capability development; Pyongyang’s missile capabilities; and potential operational and diplomatic issues after the collapse of North Korea. Although the very negotiating spirit and its promotional effects are of particular importance to the US administration, Pyongyang’s acquisition of nuclear capability has increased the likelihood of jeopardizing the non-proliferation regime and the nuclear rivalry in the region of North-East Asia. The demands of the people of Japan and South Korea are proof of this claim. The president of the United States has announced at a press conference that the main purpose of the negotiations with North Korea is nuclear disarmament and reducing its threat against the people of America and the world.
  2. Some Korean analysts talk about the need for the unification of the two Koreas as a possible scenario for the end of the seventy-year-old crisis in the Peninsula. This means the formation of a united Korea with nuclear power. However, none of the players in Northeast Asia or international actors is interested in this idea.
  3. Given China-US trade war and the pursuit of negotiations between the two sides, both sides are willing to completely separate the issue of trade from the Korean Peninsula crisis something which has the support of other players like South Korea and Japan, because the extension of the various dimensions of Beijing-Washington relations to the Peninsula crisis will double the complexity of the subject.

In conclusion, it can be said that the regional players are trying to use the talks as a means of controlling the situation, because escalation of tension and outbreak of any conflicts in the region will have human, economic and political consequences, the first one being displacement of millions of North Korean refugees and their influx into China and South Korea. On the other hand, it seems that China has still the upper hand in the developments of the Peninsula; on the one hand, Beijing is working to normalize North Korea’s relations in the region and, on the other hand, to moderate Pyongyang’s positions in its own interests.

It is also important to note that North Korea, given the completion of the nuclear cycle and its reliance on China as its strong backer has the upper hand in the negotiations. In the Hanoi summit too, Pyongyang maintained its confidence-building and raised the issue of removing all the sanctions in return for full closure of Pyongyang’s nuclear site.

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