Dangerous divergencesA big chess game is being played over the fate of the Korean Peninsula. A surprise meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was held earlier this week ahead of an inter-Korean summit in April and another one between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump probably in May. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for a summit with Kim in early June.
The goal of the game being played at a dizzying speed is the denuclearization of North Korea. But all parties involved have different approaches. The United States wants a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons, which is similar to the nuclear deal with Libya based on scrapping the nuclear weapons first and giving compensation later. South Korea wants to cut the Gordian knot: resolving the nuclear issue and ensuring the security of North Korea’s regime with a single stroke. Japan takes sides with the United States.
Pyongyang prefers “phased, simultaneous measures” — in other words, North Korea getting rewards for each phase of denuclearization, which is compatible with China’s approach. Russia backs China’s solution. The denuclearization debate could return to the six-party talks of the past.
The climax of the game is Kim’s summit with Trump. The best possible scenario is an agreement to create a road map to denuclearization and peace on the peninsula. The worst scenario is Trump storming out of a summit with Kim after discerning a lack of sincerity. The latter would lead to disastrous results. China would ease sanctions on North Korea. If that happens, we can expect one of two paths: a de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state or a U.S. military strike on the rogue state.
An inter-Korean summit slated for April 27 carries great significance as it must help avert a war. But a senior Blue House official said Friday that the Libyan solution cannot be applied to North Korea. That directly collides with Washington’s approach.
If the Blue House official’s remarks reflect the Moon administration’s position, this is a big problem. One of the biggest reasons for Pyongyang to come to the bargaining table is the international community’s concerted action on the sanctions front. If that unity falls apart, there’s no hope for a resolution of the problem. Our government must not forget that the best solution was maximum pressure on North Korea. It is time for Moon’s administration to sing from the same hymn sheet as Trump’s.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 31, Page 34