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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Daily Update: November 14

Seeing as today was a fairly busy day for me, I am going to do a decurtate rundown of the news from the Korean peninsula today.

Moon Jae-in on North Korea

In Manila, South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered a smoother path toward resolution of the North Korean issue while at a regional ASEAN forum. The president outlined a strategy in which “[the international community] may be able to discuss while leaving all options on the table.” Though Moon refused to answer if the American-South Korean joint military drills would be given a quietus in return for a North Korean freeze of its nuclear and missile program (Yonhap). At the same forum, Moon called the North Korean nuclear program too advanced to be quickly destroyed, but once a suspension was in effect that “negotiations could go on to pursue complete denuclearization” (Reuters). Moon has long been a champion of diplomatic resolutions to the North Korean issue, though he did reinforce that now is the time to apply pressure through sanctions until a suspension or freeze in North Korea’s programs made negotiations a possibility worth exploring.

Human Rights and the United Nations

A panel at the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses. The Third Committee, which oversees humanitarian issues, approved the text for the 13th year, though added stronger language in calling for a resolution to the issue (Korea Herald). Contributions to the text were made from 60 countries, including South Korea, and the full document was drafted by the European Union and Japan (Yonhap). In remarks to the committee following the adoption of the resolution, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song-nam said, “The draft resolution represents a product of the political and military confrontation plot and the conspiracy of the U.S. and other hostile forces to the DPRK,” echoing rhetoric previously used in North Korea’s demurring of United Nations resolutions targeting Pyongyang (Yonhap).

Spy Chiefs in Trouble

The prosecution investigating Choigate–President Park’s abuse of power scandal–detained ex-National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Lee Byung-kee on charges relating to money given to Park from the NIS during his tenure. Other former NIS chiefs Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-ho are facing similar charges (Korea Times). The arrest of these three comes as the NIS is accused of a wide array of activities which includes spying on citizens, creating fake nude photos, creating fake online content, and swaying or downplaying TV opinion shows (Korea Herald). Though reform will be sluggish, there is already a plan to overhaul the structure of the agency (Donga Ilbo). Time will tell the success of any reform in the NIS, as true reform in the agency is bound to take a while.

Finally, Your Reading of the Day:

Moon Jae-in entered the office of President of South Korea with the image of being a dove on North Korea policy. In The Atlantic, S. Nathan Park writes that imagining Moon as a doveish liberal “is a lazy caricature” of the president. Moon’s actions and rhetoric certainly showcase a more hawkish approach to North Korea. In his piece, Park argues that Moon’s dual-track–sanctions and pressure followed by diplomacy in the right circumstances–is a key to Moon’s success and a possible resolution of the North Korean issue. Read Park’s take on Moon here: S. Nathan Park, “South Korea’s President May Be Just the Man to Solve the North Korea Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 18, 2017.

For a deeper dive into Moon’s North Korea strategy, see: Ruediger Frank, “President Moon’s North Korea Strategy,” The Diplomat, July 13, 2017. (This was orginially published on 38North.)

Breaking News: UN Sanctions

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new round of sanctions Monday, targeting the import of oil and North Korean labor. The resolution, in the words of American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey, says “the world will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal).

The sanctions adopted targeted a wide variety of industries. They placed a ban on North Korean textiles; limited import of oil to North Korea; and targeted North Korean labor, imposing a “humanitarian” clause for  future labor and letting all workers on contracts beginning before the imposition of the sanctions to continue work. This round is a watered down version of suggestions circulated by America following North Korea’s nuclear test (CNN).

The question, as with all sanctions, is the quality of implementation. The “humanitarian” loophole has caused concern in the past and made implementing sanctions difficult. It is also unclear how cooperative China will be after forcing other states to water down the resolution. Though strong, the overall effectiveness of the sanctions will be a question to follow throughout the next few months.

North Korea Missile Launch

Today, North Korea launched a missile, following which Kim said that the entire United States mainland is in range of their arsenal. Such advancement in North Korea’s missile technology is tourbling. This new technology, however troubling it may seem, was a long time coming.

To get a better understanding of what North Korea’s recent missile developments mean and how they came to be, I will post a more in-depth analysis in the coming days.

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.

Breaking News: North Korea Tests a Missile

North Korea launched a missile about an hour ago, adding pressure to an already volitile situation on the peninsula. Yonhap is reporting that the projectile–it is currently unknown what type of missile was launched–flew 700 kilometers (Yonhap). The missile was launched near the city of Kusong.

South Korea’s newly minted president Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the security council following the launch. The military also released a statement saying it “is closely monitoring for proactive movements by North Korea and maintaining all readiness postures” (CNN). This response is typical for South Korea following a launch.

In terms of motivation, the launch is most likely a test of the Trump-Moon dynamic. President Trump has favored a more militaristic and tough approach while Moon favors engagement to denuclearize Pyongyang. This also ensures North Korea is issue number one in the alliance, possibly straining the relationship because of the different approaches.

North Korea also has been politically active.  On May 13, North Korea called for the UN to reconsider sanctions against the country (Yonhap).

Daily Update–March 29

South Korea

Politics- Today, Ex-president Park Geun-hye attended a hearing about the special prosecutors warrant for her arrest (Korea Herald). Park refused to answer questions from reporters as she entered the hearing. After completing its 70-day probe, the special prosecutor sought a warrant to arrest Park for charges of bribery, coercion and leaking classified documents, citing the possibility of destruction of evidence and graveness of alleged crimes. The bribery charge alone carries a possible sentence of 10 years (Korea Times). Park has denied all allegations brought against her. As of writing, Park remains in the hearing and this Korea Times article has a link to live video analyzing her remarks. The stream is in Korean.

5740(Photo:  Park showing up at Seoul Central District Court to attend the hearing over the arrest warrant against her. Source: Korea Times)

For your information: The Liberty Korea Party will announce its presidential candidate in two days.

Economy- Hyundai is working to create a dedicated platform for electric vehicles. Pushed by the introduction of Tesla Motors into the market, Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors have been pursuing ways to make their electric cars more competitive in the market. Though this platform will not be completed in the near future, Kia and Hyundai are looking to roll out electric powered SUVs with a range of 186 miles per charge. Lee Ki-sang, a president at Hyundai Motors who heads Hyundai-Kia’s green car operations, hopes for the electric powered cars to account for 10% of total car sales by 2025, up from 1% today (NY Times).

Culture- A Russian trio has been arrested and charged with smuggling North Korean drugs into South Korea. The drugs were not illicit substances. The trio bought medications and health substances made by the North’s Pugang Pharmaceutic Co. in North Korea and airmailed them to South Korea through Russia. They sold them without a license, according to local police. The substances had a value of around 9 million won–$8,080 (Korea Herald). The import of North Korean goods without a license is a violation of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act which dictates strategy to deal with cooperation issues between the two Koreas (Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act).

North Korea

North Korean media has unleashed a vicious cycle of press against the United States, reacting to the military drills currently ongoing in South Korea. On March 29, KCNA published an article which threatened the use of a resolute preemptive strike in the face of American attack (KCNA; Yonhap)[1]. Another article argued that sanctions against the reclusive country are immoral (KCNA)[1]. And a final article rebuked an American State Department Official’s remark on a softer stance toward North Korea (KCNA)[2]. Each article contained a common theme: American Key-Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills in South Korea are immoral and a preemptive measure against North Korea. This style is not uncommon from North Korea and doesn’t really hint at any upcoming provocative actions from the regime.

In other North Korean news, a South Korean think tank reported that North Korea is estimated to have 1000 drones. Chung Ku-yoon, a research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said that Pyongyang is developing the drones to enhance spying techniques. Some fear the drones may be used in aerial terror attacks (Yonhap). This comes after South Korean Defense Minister instructed the troops not to hesitate if North Korea attacked (Yonhap).

Notes

[1] These sources are taken from North Korean media and linking to them is difficult. Also, please take any information presented from North Korean media with a grain of salt.

[2] Source is linked from KNCA Watch, a North Korean media aggregator run by NKNews. Again, please do not take any information from North Korean state media at face value.