Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#520(Special)】Precarious U.S.-North Korea Political Show

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2018.06.19 (Tue)

June 14, 2018

     Surely, June 12 when a U.S.-North Korea summit took place has become a historic day. This is because the two countries’ theatrical political leaders broadly reached an agreement toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” When pointed out at a press conference after the summit that their joint communique failed to include the earlier-planned complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction, U.S. President Donald Trump frustratingly answered that there was no time to secure details in this agreement. Trump might have given priority to holding the first ever U.S.-North Korea summit even if it were incomplete. As a result, the summit proved that even a poorest country like North Korea could move a superpower by having nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang aims to retain nuclear program
     The joint statement should have included North Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un’s pledge to dismantle nuclear weapons and missiles, a schedule for the dismantlement and his acceptance of inspection. However, there is a midterm election this November and a presidential election in November 2020 in which Trump could seek reelection. If the two leaders agree even to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” possibly interpreted differently by Washington and Pyongyang, rather than “the denuclearization of North Korea,” Trump might win the removal of nuclear materials and missiles from North Korea before one of these elections.
     President Trump gave credit to himself for the political show of U.S.-North Korea summit in his Twitter message. As for economic assistance Pyongyang would seek in exchange for the denuclearization, however, Trump indicated that South Korea and Japan would pay for it while no U.S. taxpayers’ money would be used. Among countries close to North Korea, excluding China having ulterior motives on North Korea, only Japan could provide full-fledged financial assistance. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may take the time for North Korea to take the bait of economic assistance. Unless the North Koreans show willingness to resolve abduction cases of Japanese citizens, Japan should not pay what they call war compensation.
     The third-generation ruler in North Korea gives priority to maintaining the Kim dynasty and reducing international economic sanctions to retain a secret nuclear program. The joint statement includes President Trump’s commitment to provide “security guarantee” to North Korea, based on which Kim agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Identity of interest between Pyongyang and Beijing
     Pyongyang has so far played a dangerous game with superpowers the United States and China. In negotiations with superpowers, Kim needed to win assurance for economic assistance to sneak through harsh sanctions. He went to Beijing in March after 20-hour-ride of a railway train and flew to Dalian in May for the second talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an apparent bid to request the relaxation of sanctions in order to tolerate U.S. pressure.
     Such request meets China’s interests. China wants to keep North Korea as a buffer state in order to face its strategic rival, the United States. At the same time, Kim could be a trump card for China in dealing with the United States. Beijing could use the card to win the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea that it has long demanded. The agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula could pave the way for China to ask the United States to prove the absence of nuclear weapons in South Korea. It could also extend the ban to the U.S. nuclear umbrella that protects U.S. allies Japan and South Korea.
     Given that the joint statement left procedures, schedules and verification methods for the denuclearization for future talks, however, the United States would not immediately withdraw its troops designed to deter North Korea. Negotiations on the nuclear disarmament of North Korea that President Trump pursues will start soon.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.