Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), has said that he will consider abandoning the country's nuclear arsenal through bilateral peace talks with the United States. President Trump says he will meet with Kim Jong Un before May, after being briefed by a delegation from the Republic of Korea (ROK).
If this is not fake news, everyone would be very happy and agree it would be a turning point for the regional security in Northeast Asia and for the process of denuclearization. China is likely to welcome the rapprochement on our doorstep, where war clouds have gathered due to an exchange of bellicose rhetoric on nuclear hostilities.
Is this the culmination of brinkmanship? I am afraid so. Why do we see the current proactive diplomacy by Kim Jong Un in defusing the crisis? Why was he the first to blink in the freezing standoff?
The economic sanctions approved by UN Security Council must have paid off and Pyongyang has felt the pinch of isolation. For the Kim government, the mere issue of survival remains a top concern. Once a nuclear-armed regime, Kim would have to come back to the most fundamental issue of the country’s economy. And he says giving up nuclear weapons is the will of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
This round of ice-breaking maneuvers kicked off during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, when the DPRK sent a special envoy to the presidential Blue House in Seoul. Questions remain about whether verifiable, irreversible and comprehensive destruction of the nuclear warheads is possible and what would be done to reward denuclearization.
Ideologically, a defiant US does not like Pyongyang and has not taken the sincerity of the Kim family seriously until last year’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile by the DPRK. The US says strategic patience is over and massive military maneuvers have been going on to prepare for a decapitation strike, allegedly one of the most viable options on the table.
Some observers doubt that the US will be persuaded to accept the olive branch because mounting tensions could justify the formidable military presence of the US-Japan security pact and restrict Chinese influence. But those kind of suspicions are getting nowhere, I am afraid.
A kind of inter-Korean federation under the US security umbrella could help limit China’s maritime commerce through the Tumen River delta region, which is under the control of the DPRK. And the special strategic partnership between China and Russia would also be weakened across the Euro-Asia continent.
Whatever the results of the current intensive triangle diplomacy between the Koreans and Americans, China has to be positive. We need to usher in a more stable era on the periphery. We have to figure out which is the lesser evil, an unfriendly nuclear-armed DPRK plus endless military drills, or a peaceful Korean Peninsula without rattling sabers.
Trump has to make sure that his meeting with Kim might help him survive the current mushrooming scandal of an affair with a porn star at home and the mid-term election for his party. Trump is playing with fire. But he is a master on the stage. We hope the unpredictability of the two leaders will become more predictable.