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Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 11:06
Trump-Kim summit will build more trust
By Jin Meihua
Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 11:06 By Jin Meihua


As Democratic People's Republic of Korea top leader Kim Jong-un reached Vietnam on Tuesday for his summit with United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday and Thursday, the international community hopes the two leaders would make substantial progress in the Korean Peninsula denuclearization process.

Although the establishment of a mutual-trust building mechanism would be a promising outcome of the second Trump-Kim summit, we have to realize it is not easy to bury the decades of hostility between Washington and Pyongyang. Pyongyang believes in a gradual approach to denuclearization while demanding that the US progressively lift the sanctions. But the US looks for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization before easing any sanctions.

The differences between Washington and Pyongyang over the denuclearization process, combined with US media's demonization of the DPRK, have cast a shadow on bilateral negotiations. And owing to the lack of mutual trust, setbacks can happen at any stage of the negotiations.

But an agreement to establish a mutual-trust building mechanism could be less time-consuming and arduous. The fact that Trump said on Feb 20 that there could be more US-DPRK summits in the future suggests he is looking at long-term bilateral negotiations on denuclearization. Also, Kim and Trump are likely to reach an agreement to set up a US liaison office in Pyongyang as the first step toward normalizing US-DPRK relations.

Given the peninsula denuclearization issue is very complicated, Kim and Trump have to make more concrete achievements compared with their first meeting in Singapore in June to take the peninsula peace process forward, even though their first meeting was historic.

The silver lining is that the two countries are willing to take the peace process forward. Before leaving for Hanoi, Trump said he had no pressing schedule for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, indicating a more cooperative position on the more gradual approach to denuclearization. And DPRK official Rodong Sinmun said Pyongyang is facing a "historic turning point" from where denuclearization seems possible. Therefore, Pyongyang could promise to freeze the Tongchang-ri and Yongbyon nuclear facilities, and destroy its inter-continental missiles, and Washington could pledge to ease or lift the sanctions.

Yet the international community should not pin too much hope on the second Trump-Kim summit, because of the considerable challenges they face.

Although the US and the DPRK need to first narrow their differences over denuclearization through continuous negotiations, it is very difficult, geo-politically speaking, for Pyongyang to accede to the US' complete denuclearization demand, because it considers its nuclear capabilities and plans to be its most powerful bargaining chip in its negotiation with the US. Since the DPRK cannot meet its electricity needs through thermal power generation, it needs civilian nuclear power plants to solve its electricity shortage problem which has been plaguing its economic development.

The other great challenge for the two leaders is to reach concrete but achievable agreements - because if promises are not realized, the denuclearization process will hardly advance. As it is, many people tend to believe the second Trump-Kim summit will be a Trump reality show to shift the people's focus from the pressure his administration has been facing at home. Irrespective of the speculations, however, the second Trump-Kim summit will be a watershed for the Korean Peninsula's future.

Still, the DPRK would do good to remember that after Trump and Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in (who initiated the latest peace process) leave office, it has to strengthen anew relations with Washington and Seoul.

It should also realize that unless tangible progress is made before Trump and Moon leave office, the risk of a peninsula war may increase, especially if conservative parties come to power in the US and the ROK. Only if the US and the DPRK build mutual trust can the peninsula denuclearization process progress.

Besides, the international community should play a more active role and encourage the two sides to reach a concrete agreement to restore permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Feb 21, under the current circumstances, China believes the United Nations Security Council needs to consider holding a debate on invoking the provisions of the council's resolutions to modify sanctions so as to encourage the political settlement process through concrete actions.

The author is a researcher and secretary general at the Northeast Asia Studies Institute, Jilin Academy of Social Sciences. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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