Houston We have Handshake

Kim Jung-un has officially gained more prominence in the world. Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump have shaken hands in Singapore before a background of American and North Korean flags and are now off to a 1-on-1 bilateral meeting with only translators present.

The summit is on and we await the news.

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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.

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.