A historic summit to achieve what is a long way off

China Plus Published: 2018-06-13 14:43:57
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By Xu Qinduo

While the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump was historic by all means, there is also mounting criticism and hand wringing from the US or, to a larger extent the Western mainstream experts, about the outcomes of the meeting. Most of the criticism focused on either that Mr. Trump has compromised too much or failed to extract specific denuclearization commitments from Pyongyang, except some "empty promises." Some even claim "it's depressing" and Trump proved to be a dove on North Korea. While commenting on Trump's suggestions of developing North Korea from a real estate perspective, Richard N. Hass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, lamented that "US foreign policy has clearly changed; the containment doctrine has given way to the condominium doctrine."

Top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during the signing ceremony of a joint statement in Singapore on June 12, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during the signing ceremony of a joint statement in Singapore on June 12, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]

Are things truly that bad? Is such criticism fair? Could these observers be misreading Trump's ambition to do something "big and bold?"

For one thing, the tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula has been dramatically reduced with the successful conclusion of the summit in Singapore on Tuesday. Only as recently as last year, Pyongyang tested powerful nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which it claimed were able to reach the US mainland. In response, Trump talked about "fire and fury like the world has never seen." The world was once at the brink of a nuclear Armageddon.

But in Singapore, the two leaders expressed a different sentiment. "We had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind," said Kim at the signing ceremony of a joint statement in Singapore, adding that "the world will see a major change." Previous hostilities are now largely gone, replaced by friendly greetings, patting on the back and promises of big changes. Isn't that a sign of tremendous progress and something to celebrate?

Secondly, the US-North Korea relationship is assuming a new style, from the two countries being arch enemies to now being on a path to normalization. Though technically still at war, the two countries are at a historical turn of their relationship. "I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past," said Trump. In his words, the two men have developed "a special bond," and a peace treaty may come soon to officially and technically end the war.

While it is wise not to read too much into Mr. Trump's remarks, such a statement does help to create the necessary foundation to continue the negotiations, which are widely believed to be tough and complex.

With regards to the key issue of denuclearization, Mr. Kim reaffirmed in the joint statement his "firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization." Many critics seem disappointed that it was merely a repeat of an earlier commitment by the North Korean leader. But it was the first time that Mr. Kim made such a promise to Mr. Trump, in a diplomatic document he signed in front of the world's media. Given how critical the disarmament of nuclear weapons is, the repetition assumes its own and more formal significance, albeit not legally binding.

It was also encouraging to see Mr. Trump was ready to provide necessary "security assurances" to North Korea and had already made some reconciliatory gestures, including ending the joint US-South Korea military drills, which he correctly pointed out was "very provocative." A possible future withdrawal of US troops from South Korea may also be on the table. If there's enough détente on the Peninsula to ensure long-term peace and stability, what's the point of stationing the about 30,000 troops, when the operational cost is presumably high and the justification nonexistent? Here one can see what China has long advocated and what Trump prefers as reciprocal moves of mutual compromises, North Korea's dismantling of its only known nuclear test site, as well as a promise to dismantle missile test grounds in return for the promised suspension of war games. More importantly, we see initial and sure signs of mutual trust, as compared with the previous trust deficits that hampered any peace attempts.

Critics say North Korea is the big winner, as the US could have extracted serious concessions but failed to do so. However, one cannot be oblivious to the fact that North Korea has demolished a nuclear test site, released US prisoners and stopped nuclear or missile tests for months. There aren't really many concrete concessions from the US side, except for promises that are welcomed but yet to be materialized.

If a zero-sum mentality is followed instead of a pragmatic manner to resolve problems, the issue can never be dealt with, as evidenced by what has happened in the past 70 years. "Anybody can make war but only the most courageous can make peace," said Trump, who is certainly unique in his own style and seems ready and determined to achieve "big and bold" changes by starting with "small steps." He has already created history by breaking away from convention to meet with Kim against all odds. More could be expected next week, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team sit down with North Korean officials to interpret the four general points in the just signed documents into specific and reciprocal measures.

Complete denuclearization and ultimate peace may be a long way off, and few expect they can be achieved overnight. So far, Trump has made unprecedented moves and certainly deserves credit and support to continue the effort.

For those who continue to press for a jackpot at one go, the answer is – that way you are pressing for nothing but continued tension, or something even worse.

(Xu Qinduo is a political analyst for CRI and CGTN, and a Senior Fellow of the Pangoal Institution. He has worked as CRI's chief correspondent to Washington DC.)

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.