Stakes high in second Trump-Kim summit

Credit to Author: The Manila Times| Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2019 16:32:08 +0000

A second summit between a sitting American president and the leader of North Korea is reportedly being arranged for next month, with Vietnam as the possible venue. This is a welcome development in the North Korean peace talks that have stalled yet again after significant breakthroughs in 2018.

Last June, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore. The world applauded that historic meeting, hoping that peace and denuclearization in the Korean peninsula would soon follow.

More than lasting peace between the warring Koreas, the security of this region and many parts of the world was at stake. For decades, the threat of a nuclear attack has hung over the heads of South Koreans, their allies in this region, including the Philippines, and even parts of the United States.

Indeed, East Asia saw some encouraging symbolic steps toward peace. But not long after the reporters covering the story retired, further progress appeared to stall as the US and North Korea failed to address the central issue of dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal. Seven months after Singapore, North Korea remains a nuclear threat, even to Southeast Asia.

There is a growing sense of skepticism about North Korea’s intention to follow through on its denuclearization commitment, given its repeated delays in scheduling follow-up negotiations. Mr. Kim is probably betting that his intransigence will wear out international will and win him acceptance and financial rewards — bribes by another name — as enticements for returning to the negotiating table, according to analysts in Southeast Asia following this issue.

Mr. Kim is underestimating the world. He needs resources from abroad to survive, but North Korea has nothing to offer the world in return. Countries that genuinely care about nonproliferation can afford to outwait him, but not the other way around; he cannot afford to outwait them.

Mr. Kim’s annual address to his country earlier this January told us a great deal about his seeming lack of seriousness on the issue. In the past, he has threatened to “mass produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles,” which as far as we know, he has done. If Mr. Kim now wants a relaxation of economic sanctions, he will need to make some pretty impressive concessions first.

The North Korean leader also offered an olive branch in his New-Year address in 2018, which the US and South Korea accepted in good faith. That move led to his country’s participation in the Winter Olympics and the summits with South Korea and the US. As impressive as those meetings were, Mr. Kim will risk undermining all the progress that has been made if he continues to refuse putting his nuclear weapons on the negotiating table soon.

Regrettably, the message from Mr. Kim this year is further delay. In that case, North Korea deserves additional sanctions that will rightfully isolate the reclusive state from the rest of the world, as well as drain Mr. Kim’s coffers and further hurt his public image.

Instead, North Korea is getting yet another lucky break — a second face-to-face meeting with Mr. Trump.

Vietnam, a model to follow
If the next summit pushes through in Vietnam, we shall hope for Mr. Kim to imbibe the economic dynamism there that resulted from its policy of economic rejuvenation called Doi Moi. Its success would not have been possible without opening up to the world. Along with the Philippines, Vietnam today is one of the most rapidly growing countries not only in Southeast Asia, but also the rest of the world. Some even say that Vietnam may outpace the Philippines.

In other words, Vietnam represents a possibility for North Korea if it turns to peace and abandons its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles programs. Instead of being hostile to the world at large, North Korea can choose to be part of the community of nations like Vietnam. But if Mr. Kim persists on his ways, the world may be justified in unifying against his autocratic regime.

We might see in the next US-North Korea summit which path Mr. Kim prefers. The world may not be satisfied with mere photo opportunities anymore. For the sake of peace and prosperity, we hope that he chooses quickly and with the interest of his people at heart.

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