Kim’s alarming trip

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Kim’s alarming trip

Suspicions that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un abruptly visited China and met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Dalian, Liaoning province, for unknown reasons rings alarm bells. Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim were supposed to announce the date and place of their first summit by now. But the announcement is being delayed for unspecified reasons.

Under such circumstances, Kim, chairman of the North’s State Affairs Commission, paid a visit to China only 40 days after his last trip to Beijing — which was also his first — in late March. That strongly suggests an urgent situation has arisen, and the two leaders needed to discuss it ahead of Kim’s meeting with Trump.

We are concerned about potentially ominous ramifications of the sudden meeting in Dalian. A tug of war between Washington and Pyongyang could easily lead to an aborting of the meeting aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The United States has ratcheted up the level of denuclearization it is demanding to a “permanent, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” (PVID) of North Korean nuclear weapons. That is beyond the level of its previous stance, which was “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID).

Washington is also pressuring Pyongyang to apply the CVID standard to biochemical weapons of mass destruction. It also sees a threat from hundreds of scientists and engineers involved in developing nuclear weapons.

In response, North Korea denounced the Trump administration’s escalation of demands by warning that Washington must not mistake “our will to achieve peace” on the Korean Peninsula for “weakness.” Chinese media outlets went so far as to mention the possibility of a summit not being realized. “If the summit cannot be held and everything goes back to where it was, the international community will fall into despair,” they warned.

Kim’s second trip to China could be a demonstration of solidarity with Beijing or to double-check the solidity of Pyongyang’s “insurance policy” with Beijing in case the Trump-Kim summit is canceled or postponed. We are also impressed by the fact that Kim had his second summit with Xi in Dalian, where the first China-built aircraft carrier will embark on a test voyage later this month.

The denuclearization game on the Korean Peninsula is like treading on thin ice. Once you stumble, everything falls. We hope that President Moon Jae-in’s administration shows off its mediation skills again as it has been doing so far.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 30
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