The North Korea (NK) nuclear threat has a long history with NK being on and off and off and on in signing the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The recent years accelerated pace of nuclear testing and missile launching by NK invited strong reaction from the U.S. Japan and South Korea, harsh exchanges of words, increased military exercises and heightened economic sanctions placed on NK approved by the U.N. However, the North Korea nuclear threat has already reached a dilemma: North Korea has demonstrated possible capability of launching and delivering a nuclear armed continental ballistic missile, showing off by flying one over Japan (4475km, capable of reaching the U.S. if calculated with a shallow launching angle). The U.S. has installed The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system despite of the objections by China and Russia as a counter measure. This mutually claimed touché obviously did not dissolve the real nuclear threat.
The confrontation and exchange of harsh words and threats between the NK and the U.S. are exemplified by the speech the Minister of Foreign Affairs of NK, Ri Yong Ho, delivered at the U.N. on September 23rd, 2017. Ri attacked President Trump for his tweets calling the North Korea leader Kim Jong Un a rocket man. Ri accounted historical events and labeled the U.S. as the aggressor, being First used nuclear weapon, First brought nuclear weapon to Korea Peninsula and First possessed the largest amount of nuclear arsenal. Ri regarded Trump’s actions as on a suicide mission which will invite the inevitable arrival of nuclear missile to the U.S. homeland. According to The Times report, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, brokered a meeting between Rex Tillerson and Ri Yong Ho with an implicit agreement that the U.S. will cease military exercises with South Korea (SK) and Japan in exchange for NK’s suspension of nuclear tests. This meeting did not realize a real hope for opening a dialogue until the Winter Olympic events involving two Koreas took place.
The president of SK, Moon Jae-In (born 1-24-1953), has taken an initiative since taking office (5-10-2017) to engage NK despite of the hesitation of the U.S. and the serious opposition from Japan. Moon dispatched an envoy to NK eventually leading to the outcome that NK embraced the Winter Olympics (held in Pyeong Chang, South Korea) by sending a high-level envoy led by Kim Yong Nam, head of parliament, accompanied by Kim Yo Jong, younger sister of Kim Jong Un and a sizable Olympic team with cheer leaders to the Winter Olympics games. North and South Korea hockey teams played together in the Winter Olympics which wrote a special chapter for the Olympic history.
This Olympic encounter with NK delivering a personal invitation from Kim Jong Un to President Moon of SK appears to be the diplomatic act thawing the ice between the two Koreas. Actually behind the scene, Kim’s rude manner and not meeting the special Chinese envoy in November, 2017, led by Soon Tao, intending to brief Kim a traditional update after the 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, angered President Xi to the point that China cut off all avenues of supplies of oil and gas to NK knowing the arrival of a bitter Winter. In this column, we have always held the position that the NK problem can only be solved by a synchronized joint plan endorsed by the U.S. and China. China’s move to support the sanction as a message to Kim and Xi’s vivid anger over Kim’s irrational behavior turned messages to punishments. This punishment apparently triggered the softening of NK, delivering an Olympic Oliver branch to SK, and seeking a direct dialogue with the U.S., hence the possibility of a Trump-Kim meeting.
With what happened between NK and SK, The U.S. has little choice but goes along with the wishes of the two Koreas of meeting and talking, whether the North is sincere or not. On March 9, President Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un to discuss how to realize the denuclearization of Korea Peninsula. This was a big news and considered a big win for Kim since the U.S. had never agreed to have direct talks with NK before. Soon, Kim was invited to make a State Visit to China which happened on March 28. Then on April 27, Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In held a summit meeting at the two-Korea border creating an historical event with embrace, kind words and planting a ‘peace tree’. The U.S. is putting the preparation of Trump-Kim summit in high gear focusing on setting a date and location for the meeting. On May 4, President Trump announced that he had a date and place in mind for his meeting with Kim. Then on May 8th, Kim made a secret visit to Dalian, China with a purpose of having a personal dialogue with President Xi and thanking him for his years of support in resolving the Korea Peninsula issue through dialogue. Then on May 10th, Trump tweeted that the Trump-Kim Summit will take place at Singapore on June 12th. Seemingly, the summit event was sure to take place.
Following the above announcement, a series of dramatic development, which ultimately led to President Trump’s cancellation of the summit meeting, was so bizarre and intriguing that might be made into a movie someday. At this time, we can only string together a few things happened and reported in the media connecting to the cancellation of the Summit: (1)NK not entirely happy about Singapore being the meeting place unilaterally decided by the U.S. (2)NK threatened to pull out of the meeting because the U.S., Korea and Japan were still to hold military exercises. (3) National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested that Libya (Gaddafi was killed) could serve as a model for persuading NK to give up its nuclear weapon program. (4) Kim’s top aide Choe Son-hui regarded VP Mike Pence’s remark, “NK may end like Libya” stupid and call him a political dummy. (5)Pompeo’s meetings with NK did not go well resulting in NK not communicating with the US officials.
All the above indicate the possibility that NK will call off the summit, thus Trump decided to call it off first and sent Kim a letter. President Trump had agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un for talks in May 2018 then postponed to June 12; in between Kim made a second visit to China obviously seeking some diplomatic consultation. The U.S. got into the summit agreement without a solid plan. Trump’s staff should have focused on preparing a game plan than uttering rhetoric destroying instead of building trust. At this point, though the June 12th meeting is called off, all sides, the U.S., NK, China and SK all left doors open for reopening for a Trump-Kim meeting. We sincerely hope that Trump and Kim will not focus on scoring personal credit and glory but concentrate on getting a peace treaty and making the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. China has been consistent and sincere in her position and effort to solve the Korea Peninsula issue through dialogue. We believe that a Trump-Kim meeting will be fruitful if Trump-Kim can build trust through China, reaching a mutual understanding. We will emphasize a view we have expressed before, that is the nuclear threat in the Korean Peninsula may be completely resolved if the North and South Korea can be united. If the Korean War in the 1950’s was ended with a peace treaty allowing the two Koreas to unite like East and West Germany did at the end of the Cold War, there would be no nuclear threat in Korean Peninsula. The unification of West and East Germany should be used as a history lesson for negotiating a peace treaty between the U.S. and the two Koreas. Trump and Xi should work out a mutual understanding on the pre-conditions for exercising the reunification of two Koreas thus achieving denuclearization.
From the historical perspective of the U.S., the Korean War, the defense treaty with SK and the problem of NK nuclear threat are all rooted in the legacy strategy of deterring the spread of communism. China’s own socialistic ideologytoday is not communism and is more leaning towards the socialism practiced in the U.S. A united Korea Peninsula co-existing with China will stop the spread of communism and contribute to world peace.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.