Summit Stories: An Analysis of the June 12 US-DPRK Summit

President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jung-un sat face to face in an epochal summit on June 12, 2018, on Sentosa Island in Singapore. The two men showed obvious rapport as they talked, signed a joint statement, and even partook in some jovial unscripted moments between meetings.

Though they got along, the summit was not the end-all moment that Trump and his administration had wished for. However, it may not the statement which Trump signed , but the relationship he cultivated with Kim Jung-un that may lead to further progress on the peninsula.

The Joint Statement

The most tangible outcome of the Trump-Kim summit was the Joint Statement signed by the two leaders. Though Trump lauded the outcome of the summit, the wording and commitments outlined in the joint statement simply do not advance the denuclearization of North Korea.

The Joint Statement consisted of a few major points. Trump agreed to provide security guarantees while Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” (Joint Statement)[1]. The statement also laid out four main commitments as well, including reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration, establishment of relations between America and North Korea, continuing efforts to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the repatriation of American remains from the Korean War.[2] Trump and Kim closed by agreeing to continuing diplomatic reaches in attempting to solve the nuclear issue (Joint Statement).

Trump, following the summit, has been a staunch defender of the statement. After returning stateside, Trump tweeted that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea (Twitter). Even a week after signing the statement, Trump continued to praise it, insisting that the media was downplaying the positive aspects of the agreement because he signed it (Twitter; USA Today). The president has constantly pointed to the provision calling for the repatriation of American remains from the Korean War as an example of the “major concessions” he gained from North Korea at the summit.

While Trump’s laudatory remarks are not necessarily out of the ordinary for a president who is defending his most important foreign policy venture of his tenure, the statement itself has drawn much criticism from the expert community. Jenny Town, managing editor of 38North, said the statement had even less detail than previous agreements between North Korea and the United States. Scott Snyder, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the statement, and the summit itself, did nothing to address the missile development, biological and chemical weapons, as well as the human rights situation in North Korea (PBS). Andrei Lankov said the agreement had zero practical value and that “North Korea will feel emboldened while the United States got nothing” (Financial Times). Finally, Stephen Haggard argued that the statement will be detrimental to American short- and long-term interests in the region, writing “we are no farther along after the summit than we were before it,” in reference to lacking detail about the future in the statement (NKNews).

The biggest failure of the statement is the lack of concrete measures and steps for moving forward on the denuclearization of North Korea. Heading into Singapore, Trump drew a tough line on ensuring the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) of North Korea at the summit. The statement, however, makes no reference to CVID. Trump and Kim also agreed to promote peace and continue diplomacy, but left the details out here as well. As Benjamin Habib wrote in The Conversation, “the omission of CVID from the joint statement is confirmation that North Korea under Kim Jung-un is never going to willingly denuclearize,” and the statement is most revealing in its omissions (The Conversation).

While it is easy to lambast the statement for lacking key structural support for the continued push to denuclearize North Korea, the statement represents a key historical victory. It showcases the ability of Pyongyang and Washington to hear and negotiate on critical security concerns and even reach an agreement on those issues. Also, the statement has ushered in a calm over the peninsula as North Korea has entered a long moratorium of missile and nuclear testing–though no testing does not mean they haven’t been working and advancing their nuclear program in other ways. Though vague and lacking, the statement will provide an essential grounding for future negotiations with North Korea moving forward.

Frenemies: Kim & Trump’s Relationship

(Image: Trump and Kim as they walk over to check out “The Beast.” Source: AP News)

Another key aspect of the summit was the ability for Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump to build rapport with each other. Either the summit would be confrontational and the world would slip right back into a fear of possible war or the two leaders would be able to cultivate a decent relationship which could pave the way for future negotiations. Thankfully, the latter occurred.

Trump and Kim shared some very interesting, unscripted moments together in front of the cameras. The two leaders shared smiles throughout the event, and both walked a slightly confident swagger following the closed door meeting (TIME). Possibly the most intriguing moment occurred when Trump showed off “The Beast”–the presidential limo–to the North Korean leader (Fox News). The two appeared friendly during the summit, and that likely will assist in continuing negotiations in the future; it is easier to negotiate with someone if you find something in common, even if they are your enemy.

Trump even had some very kind words to say about Kim following their closed sessions during the summit. The President described the relationship between them as a very special bond. At one point, Trump even attempted humor, joking about getting a perfect picture in which the leaders look thin (NY Times). Trump’s words, body language, and even overall demeanor during these unscripted moments offered the possibility to gauge the summit. They confirmed that the two leaders got along and were able to discuss key issues in a mild manner under tense pressure.

Conclusion

It has been two weeks since the summit and already we have seen some advancement on both sides of the 38th parallel. President Trump has made good on his security promise by pulling the plug on the joint military drills (Yonhap). North Korea has started to remove its anti-American propaganda from shops and other locations across the country (NKNews).

Both President Trump and Kim Jung-un won something in this summit. Trump’s biggest takeaway was political. He can present the summit as successful use of diplomacy during his first term. Trump also got Kim to cease missile and nuclear testing for an elongated period of time in 2018–North Korea has yet to test a missile or nuke as it attempts diplomatic outreach to many nations. Kim won political legitimacy. Moreover, he gained legitimacy as a nuclear weapons state. Though his most important goal, the rest of the world will not confer the same legitimacy on Kim, and most likely will refuse to acknowledge his new found legitimacy if Pyongyang refuses to act as a responsible power in the world. The outcomes of the summit are tricky to parse, as diplomacy is complex.

Assigning a winner and loser of the summit is a paltry practice. Kim Jung-un won the legitimacy he pursued for years; even if the summit had no tangible outcomes, Kim still would have gained such legitimacy. He also gained, in writing, security guarantees from a sitting U.S. president. Trump gained a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests which backed the peninsula away from the brink of war. Trump’s biggest loss is legitimizing North Korea while not pushing for concrete steps toward denuclearization. Legitimizing Kim’s nuclear weapons also presents a challenge for Kim: he must now act as a responsible nuclear power to continue to posses and grow his legitimacy.

Future negotiations with North Korea surrounding the nuclear issue will shift as Kim will see himself as a bona-fide nuclear power, threatening enough for the United States president to meet with him, This is not to say that future talks will be for naught. As with this summit, major talks tend to correspond with lulls in testing, and provide some short-term room for progress to be made. Now, all we have to do is tactically use the opening created by the summit and push for concrete progress.

Notes

[1] The “Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jung-un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit” will be referenced as the “Joint Statement” in this post for brevity.

[2] For a copy of the Panmunjom Declaration, see “Full text of Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula” in The Straights Times.

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Conclusion of the Historic Summit

(Image: Trump and Kim as they sign the joint statement at the end of yesterday’s summit. Source: The English Post)

By now, many know that the summit between Kim and Trump ended the signing of a joint statement, which, on a cursory glance is similar to other statements signed by North Korea. (A whole analysis of the statement and the summit will be coming this week.)

The signing of the statement is historic in itself; never has a sitting president signed the same document as a North Korean leader. No matter how successful the summit, it will represent a tectonic shift in relations between the United States and North Korea.

What to Watch For as we Head to Lunch

(Image: Trump and Kim shake hands before their bilateral meeting in Singapore. Source: Fox News Twitter)

Kim Jung-un and President Trump have left their one on one and headed to a luncheon where diplomatic and expert staff will join them. The two leaders are continuing their historic summit which has the world watching.

Some things to watch for from the summit as we near the end:

  • Substance and plans: Will there be an unveiling of a plan toward denuclearization?
  • Statements: What will Kim Jung-un say? What about Trump’s words? How will the media–both American and North Korean–use public statements to shape the narrative?
  • Human rights: Was the topic of human rights abuses even mentioned in this meeting? What was said and who said it?
  • The relationship: How do Kim and Trump act together? How are they shaping the image through body language and gestures?
  • Peace Treaty: Was their discussion on a formal treaty to end the Korean War? Were any stipulations in place for the treaty? What frame was the treaty presented? And, finally, was a treaty signed?

These are just a few points to watch in this summit. Hopefully, we’ll have answers to them all in the coming hours.

Creating a Path Toward Denuclearization

It has been a long, unplanned hiatus for this blog, not due the lack of news coming from the peninsula for sure. As we approach meeting time, the world watches both President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jung-un as they wake up in Singapore, counting down the hours till they meet face to face. As I cannot write something that has not been written before, below is a brief breakdown of a possible path Trump can pursue to set North Korea on a path toward denuclearization.

(Image: Trump and Kim Jung-un. Source: CNN)

A diplomatic uncertainty, full of twists and turns only a Trump White House could produce, has increased the already high stakes of next weeks U.S.-North Korea summit. Topics will mainly focus on the weapons programs in North Korea, with a strong push for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.” Another key focus will be a formal ending to the Korean War with the possible signing of a peace treaty. Trump, in order to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea, can pursue three goals which will set North Korea on the path toward denuclearization and use the possibility of a formal peace treaty to bring Kim Jung-un into compliance.

First, Trump can pursue the safety of the North Korean nuclear program by pushing for strong updates to current North Korean nuclear testing and production sites. Such updates would ensure that nuclear waste is properly stored, proper measures for interacting with nuclear material are implemented, and ensure that any accident can be contained quickly. Adding such a strict, internationally mandated safety to the North Korean nuclear program ensures any inspections are thorough and provides structure to give the world a better understanding of the program. It also can ensure that the North Korean people themselves are less likely to become the victim in case of a major breakdown at any nuclear site in the country.

Second, Trump must push for enhanced transparency with regards to international reporting on North Korea’s nuclear program. This includes installing a strong structure for and stipulations on North Korea’s own reporting of its nuclear program. As David Sanger and Willam Broad reported in the New York Times, Pyongyang has hidden vast amounts of data on its nuclear program for decades—American intelligence agencies cannot even agree on how many weapons Kim possess. This means any strong transparency measures will also have to include a strong inspection regime to ensure compliance with implemented measures and the accuracy of North Korean reports. Violations or discrepancies within North Korea’s reports must then be investigated and punished appropriately; a stronger understanding of the capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear program greatly enhances the ability to verify any steps taken toward denuclearization.

Finally, Trump should push for the destruction of known nuclear sites such as Yongbyon in order to build upon the North’s actions at Punggye-ri while also greatly reducing North Korea’s capabilities to expand its arsenal. To prevent shallow gestures, international experts need to be able to attend and verify the destruction of such sites, and Pyongyang should face penalties if any site is not irreversibly destroyed. Though there are many unknown nuclear sites in North Korea, destroying the ones already known cripples Kim’s ability to build more weapons. A panel of interested nations—Russia, America, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and China—should convene to discuss the future of any sites discovered. Rewards should be granted if Pyongyang volunteers site information and follows through on its complete destruction.

A formal peace treaty should not be signed unless Kim Jung-U.N. is willing to commit to all of these steps, ensuring that he is making good on his promise to pursue denuclearization. Providing North Korea with the security assurances that come with a formal treaty without pressing for concrete steps toward denuclearization ensures that Kim is free to cheat on any deal, all while gaining concessions and legitimacy in the domestic and international arenas. Trump also needs to think about the future and ensure that strong measures are ready to be implemented should Pyongyang cheat on the deal. America simply cannot give Kim concessions without gaining concrete steps toward denuclearization.

If Trump can secure all three of these commitments from Kim, he will walk away having accomplished more than previous presidents have on the North Korea issue. However tantalizing, he must avoid giving away security guarantees for grand promises and instead focus on setting North Korea down the road toward denuclearization. With the hype and pressure surrounding the summit, Trump must think in terms of substance while refusing to fall for North Korea’s grand promises of peace and denuclearization that Pyongyang carefully crafts for their benefit.

Corrections: June 11, 2018

Typographical changes to make the post easier to read.

Breaking News: North Korean Missile Launch

South Korean military is reporting a missile launch from North Korea. NHK, says there is a possibility the missile entered into Japan’s EEZ (Yonhap*). Stay tuned for more information as the news reports it.

Daily Update–June 5

After a brief break, including several changes in my life and a few uncontrollable happenings, I am glad to say that Daily Updates are back and I am going to start working on a longer analysis post to get up in the ensuing weeks. But without further ado, here is today’s Daily Update:

South Korea

Politics– Since taking office on May 9, President Moon Jae-in has stayed fairly busy. Three days into his term, Moon reversed one of Park’s signature policies: the introduction of state-authored history textbooks. On May 12, Moon ordered the textbooks to be scrapped (NY Times). On Tuesday, Moon continued his push for the lesser known by promising to reevaluate the history of Korea and search for people who made the country great (Korea Herald). This comes as his approval ratings fell for the first time on Monday following issues regarding his high ministerial appointments and issues befalling the investigation into THAAD deployment (Korea Times). Moon faces several challenges ahead, the most pressing being establishing a good reputation with the new Trump administration which has constantly argued for policies counter to those of Moon.

The National Assembly is set to take up the possibility of having family reunions of those split by the Korean War on August 15, Korean Liberation Day. Following a meeting with Chung Sye-kyun, South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker, and party leaders, Kang Hoon-shik, leader of the Democratic Party, said: “We’ve agreed to issue a resolution to push for a family reunion on Aug. 15” (Korea Times). This would be the first of such reunions since October 2015 when they were stopped following North Korean provocations.

Economy–The middle class in South Korea slipped about a percent to 65.7% in 2016 from the previous year the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday. The shrink is due to a widening of income disparity between the rich and poor despite government efforts to quell the issue (Yonhap). Last year, South Korea’s total income distribution rose to 9.32, meaning that those in the top 20 percent income bracket had about 9 times what those in the bottom 20 percent bracket did. The disposable income rose on year in 2016 as well, though not as sharply (Yonhap).

Culture–South Korea has launched a bus tour aimed at introducing foreigners to attractions outside of Seoul (Korea Times). The bus will take foreigners to one of five regions–the southeastern city of Daegu, Ganghwa Island in Incheon near Seoul, the northeastern province of Gangwon, the southwestern province of South Jeolla and the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang–for tours. There are plans to extend the coverage of the buses in 2019 with more stops (Yonhap).

North Korea

News–North Korea has rejected aid from a South Korean civic organisation in light of South Korea’s recent support of UN sanctions resolutions. After North Korea declared its openness to some inter-Korean exchanges, the Korean Sharing prepared to send pesticides and medical supplies to fight malaria in North Korea (Korea Times). However, Kang Yong-shik announced on Tuesday that the group would be putting off its shipment and vists, saying that Pyongyang took issue with South Korean support of recent UN sanctions (Korea Times; Yonhap). This rebuttal highlights tensions on the peninsula.

Leadership Watch–Kim has had a busy introduction into the month of June. On May 30, Kim Jung-un attended the test of the missile. According to state media, the test “verified the flight stability of ballistic rocket loaded with fin-controlled warhead in the active flying section and reconfirmed the accuracy of velocity correction and attitude stabilisation system by a small heat jet engine in middle flying section” (KCNA). A few days later, Kim visited the Kangso Mineral Water facility. During his tour of the facility, Kim discussed how the factory was a make of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il eras, reminiscing about how the factory was remodelled under their guidance during the Arduous March (KCNA). Finally, on June 5, Kim attended a combat flight contest among officers of the North Korea Air and Anti-Air Force. After ordering the men to conduct a sortie, Kim went to the observation tower to observe the contest, knowing the men would show militant spirit. After the competition, Kim gave guidance on how the Air and Anti-Force could round off preparations for combat (KCNA). With these recent actions, Kim has continued pushing his two themed advancement strategy: military and economic.[1]

Notes

[1] Sources are from North Korean state media and should be read in context with other sources to provide a fuller, more insightful picture of Kim’s actions in North Korea.

Daily Update – March 1

South Korea

Politics – Parents of high school students at Munmyeong High School, in Gyeongsan, plan to file an administrative suit with Daegu District Court challenging the school’s adoption of controversial state-authored history textbooks.  The school was designated as an experimental school for the textbooks, a move many parents see as illegal and drove 4 incoming students to drop out or move to another school (Yonhap).  State authored history textbooks have had a long, troubled history since greenlighted in 2015.  Since the decision to move to state-authored history textbooks, the Park administration has been accused of trying to whitewash history to bolster the conservative position (NY Times).  In late 2016, it was reported that the official roll out was delayed till 2018, but schools could opt to test the books (Asia News Network).  Switching to state-authored textbooks has long been met with negative criticism in Korea; a Gallup Korea poll released on November 6, 2015, showed that 53% viewed the shift negatively (NY Times), and on January 20 this year, South Korean parliament introduced a bill to ban the textbooks (Yonhap).  Though not the most scandalous act of the administration, the shift was a part of the two years of scandal which caused Park’s downfall.  With the introduction of the bill, it appears the textbooks are in the crosshairs and possibly will be entirely eliminated under the next administration.  If not banned, the textbooks will go into use in 2018.

aen20161128005400315_01_i(Image: South Korean officials hand out pilot editions of the controversial state authored history textbooks in Seoul on November 28, 2016.  Source: Yonhap)

Economy – Households in Korea are facing a toughening burden on two fronts. Last year households spent 2 million won in taxes and quasi-taxes, with the government collecting 10 million won more than expected in taxes.  The average household spent 158,761 won in taxes last year, a rise of 2.1% on year (Korea Times). Many forecast such a rise since the government also took in a surplus in 2015.  This has opened a debate on lowering the tax rate in Korea to alleviate some of the tax burden and leave families with more disposable income.  Currently, South Korea’s tax rate is 19.5%, which is lower than the average OECD rate of 25.1% (Korea Times).

Secondly, Korean outstanding household credit jumped to 1,344.3 trillion won (US$1.17 trillion) during the first quarter of last year, up 11.7% from the previous year (Yonhap).  Amid the trend of rising household debt, the Bank of Korea is looking to cut its rates which currently stand at 1.25%.  However, with the possibility of an American Fed hike and the upcoming election–domestic political uncertainty mostly–South Korea’s current rate freeze is set to remain for the time being (Yonhap).  Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol argued for a cautious monetary policy while some analysts have said South Korea has run out of monetary policy cards to revive the economy (Yonhap).  As the political uncertainty domestically mixes with economic uncertainty, in terms of a rate hike in the U.S., the Bank of Korea should shy away from drastic moves, opting to maintain the status quo for the time being.

Culture – Wednesday was the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement in South Korea, which 98 years ago precipitated the Korean opposition against Japanese occupation.  In 2017, pro- and anti-Park protestors took to the streets as the Constitutional Court is deciding whether to uphold or rescind the impeachment motion.  As of 8pm, 300,000 people were reported to be in the square, with many anti-Park protestors waving the national flag with an attached yellow ribbon in memory of those who died in the Sewol tragedy (Korea Herald).  An anti-Park candlelight vigil was held in the evening to demand the court to uphold the impeachment.  South Korea’s political landscape is becoming more and more polarized as the decision lingers.  The court is set to render a verdict in early March.

20170301000398_0(Image: Police buses separate pro- and anti-Park protestors in Gwanhhwamun Square.  Source: Korea Herald)

North Korea

News – Just when you think it can not, the Malaysia debacle continues to grow.  On Tuesday, the two women who attacked Kim Jong-nam were officially indicted in Malaysia and could receive the death penalty (NY Times).  The two women–Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong–are officially charged with murder in the attack.  Malaysian authorities are also looking to indict Ri Jong-chol in connection with the killing (Korea Times).  Malaysia also took more actions against North Korea.  The Malaysian government, citing national security, has canceled the visa waver program for North Korean citizens.  The change will take effect on March 6, after which any North Korean seeking entry to Malaysia will have to obtain a visa (Yonhap).  As the case unfolds, North Korea may face a drastic shift in relations with Malaysia, one that is not for the better.

01kim-1-master315(Image: Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, left, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, are the two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam and could receive the death penalty.  Source: NY Times)

Leadership Watch – On March 1, Kim Jung-un inspected the headquarters of the large combined unit 966.  During his inspection, Kim praised the past commanding officers of the unit, saying many were tough anti-Japanese fighters, provided on the spot guidance, toured the history collections and monuments the unit holds, and offered a path forward for the unit.  He also praised the combat readiness of the unit.  With him on this visit was KPA Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong So, director of the KPA General Political Bureau, and Army Col. General Ri Yong Gil, first vice-chief of the KPA General Staff and director of the General Operational Bureau (KCNA)[1].

[1] Source is from state-controlled media and should be read with a keen eye to the details of the report.  Combination with outside sources can ensure information is complete.