- North Korea
Trump too inexperienced to negotiate with 'cunning' Kim
By Kirsty Needham9 March 2018 — 2:57pm
Normal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text size
Beijing: A planned meeting between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is being greeted with caution by Korea analysts who fear the US president is not equipped for such a high stakes meeting so soon.
The leaders' meeting, a breakthrough after a year of escalating missile tests by North Korea that rattled the world and were punished with tough economic sanctions by the United Nations, will take place by May.
Trump agreed after a message from Kim was delivered to Washington by a South Korean envoy which said Kim was prepared to talk about denuclearisation, and to freeze North Korea's missile tests during talks.
This met Washington's long-standing pre-conditions for talks.
Many had envisaged the next step was a revival of the multiparty talks involving the six nations – US, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and North Korea – involved in negotiations a decade ago that sought to halt North Korea's nuclear program.
The news of a direct meeting was welcomed in Beijing, which had been urging talks.
“We welcome the positive signals by the US and North Korea about having direct dialogue. The Korean Peninsula issue is moving in the right direction towards its settlement,” said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said China had strictly implemented UN sanctions, and would continue to play a positive role. China and South Korea had in recent days been urging the US and North Korea to engage in dialogue.
However, one analyst suggested it could be a "disaster" for the inexperienced president to "go point-to-point" with Kim, the "cunning player".
"How grossly unprepared Trump will be?" tweeted Robert Kelly of Pusan National University.
The Trump administration has failed to appoint a South Korean ambassador. One contender for the job, Victor Cha, who was reportedly screened out because of his distaste for a US miliary strike, said in the wake of the news of the Trump meeting: "The question becomes what are we putting on the table: Sanctions? Normalisation? Peace treaty?"
Cha was a senior advisor on North Korea to George W Bush.
The US's special envoy on Korea, Joseph Yun, who was appointed by the Obama Administration and was believed to have favoured diplomacy, said last week he was quitting.
According to Kelly, "Summits normally come at the end of a long series of negotiations at lower levels in which lots of devils in the details are hammered out. Trump, always the publicity-seeker, is just diving right in."
"Less than a year after the 'armada', fire and fury,' and 'totally destroy NK,' Trump is suddenly going to have a break-through summit?"
A North Korean leader has never met with a sitting US president.
Bill Clinton decided against visiting Pyongyang while in office, but travelled there in 2009 as a former president to carry a message from president Obama, according to Wikileaks files, and to negotiate the release of two US journalists. Jimmy Carter also travelled there as a former president in 1994.
Mr Trump tweeted on Friday: "Kim Jong-un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!"
Kim will first meet with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, on the South Korean side of the demilitarised zone in April.
Moon said if Trump and Kim meet, denuclearisation will be fast tracked.
‘‘The meeting in May will be recorded as an historical milestone in the future, for achieving peace in the Korean Peninsula,’’ he said on Twitter.
Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at the Australian National University, said the historic meeting between Trump and Kim was a good thing, but Americans would be concerned it might legitimise the North Korean regime.
"There is an element of risk but both men love risk and live dangerously," Petrov said.
Trump had likely agreed because "the White House is a mess and has been drained of experts. No-one told him it was a bad idea to meet".
He credited Moon's Winter Olympics diplomacy for creating "a strong appetite for the relaxing of tensions between the US and North Korea in the region".
The Asia Society's Isaac Stone Fish, a senior fellow on US-China relations, was optimistic and said that unless the summit is a total disaster and North Korea swiftly reneges on the deal, it could be a "big win in the short term for Trump".
"While there are concerns that the summit was arranged hastily, and that meeting in May won't give the American side much time to prepare, this is the best chance for the reduction or removal of tensions in the Korean peninsula that the world has seen in years, if not decades," he said.
But Mr Stone Fish also cautioned it was unlikely North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons.
"Moreover, it will be incredibly difficult to verify if North Korea has given up its nuclear weapons. In 2009, in regards to North Korea’s nuclear assurances, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Pyongyang that he 'was tired of buying the same horse twice'. The North Koreans could resell that same horse to Trump – for a much higher cost."
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of Nobel peace prize winner, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said: "ICAN commends South Korea’s leadership in achieving historic dialogue between the US and North Korea, which is the only pathway to nuclear disarmament in the face of fire and fury."
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said he "appreciated" the shift from North Korea and it was the result of international pressure, but the stance of the US and Japan would be to maintain "maximum pressure until North Korea takes concrete action" towards disposing of its nuclear weapons.
There is speculation that China might be a possible site of the meeting between Trump and Kim.
A retired North Korea expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Science, Zhang Liangui, attributed Kim's offer to denuclearise to Trump's maximum-pressure policy.
"It made North Korea realized the danger of situation. If it continues to advocate a tough stance, the US would use force, then North Korea would be finished," he said.
A day before the Trump and Kim summit was announced, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said all parties should show political courage and hold "necessary bilateral and multilateral contacts, to push forward the relaunch of dialogue and negotiation for a peaceful resolution".
He said China would continue to make efforts to achieve this.
License this article
- North Korea
- Donald Trump
- Kim Jong-un
Kirsty Needham is China Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter