US, North Korea trade off

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Rizwan Ghani

IT is a misperception that Trump is not listening to US State Department or he is going to settle a long-standing issue of North Korea single-handedly that other American Presidents failed to do with help of US Establishment. The fact of the matter is that Trump has accepted North Korea as a nuclear state which his previous counterparts were not ready to do so. Kim Jong-Un has played his cards wisely. By allowing US to continue holding military exercises and bases in South Korea, he has successfully carved out a nuclear status for his country. And it has helped Kim avoid direct confrontation with America, keep equal relations with China and develop good relations with South Korea. These strategic moves have given Kim multiple advantages. He has rebalanced DPRK-China relations which were against Pyongyang due to US sanctions. By agreeing to talk to Trump, Kim is going to get tacit approval of North Korea’s nuclear state status in exchange for continuation of US military presence in the Korean Peninsula and lifting of US sanctions to help his economic development program for his country. Beijing will be more than happy to ease sanctions against North Korea to keep healthy relations with its nuclear neighbour which will also act as a buffer state against US military presence in South Korea which is primarily based against China.
Moon has been left out of the loop. He wanted to reviving the Sunshine Policy of joining both Koreas. Unlike Park, Moon pitched himself as anti-establishment figure and promised to uphold peoples will and bring people of both Koreas closer. However, the deployment of anti-missile (THAAD) during the Park standoff soured relations between Seoul and Beijing because China takes the US missile system as direct threat to its security. Furthermore, West wanted to hijack Moon’s election policy of improving relations with North Korea because it would have expanded US military presence to North Korea that is right up to the Chinese borders in case of unification of both Koreas. Beijing therefore had no choice but to support Kim to protect China’s national, military and economic interests in the Korean Peninsula. In January 2018, Kim announced that he has successfully completed his five-year plan of developing nuclear bomb and its delivery system and now he is going to develop country’s economy. So, Kim has followed his nuclear plan irrespective of world’s reaction including Trump’s threat of use of force against the regime and he is not going to backtrack on his nuclear program which he has termed as successful done deal. Clearly, Kim not Trump is controlling the Korean Peninsula policy. Kim agreed to sit with Trump only after declaring success of his nuclear program. He wants an end to US backed economic sanctions, recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state and opening of North Korea to rest of the world. On the other hand, Trump is rushing to have dialogue with Kim because he wants to save US geo-strategic interests in the Korean Peninsula including the US military base and anti-missile system (THAAD) in South Korea.
It will be very difficult for Trump to walk away from the meeting with Kim. If he does, it is going to be at the cost of US geo-strategic interests in the Korean Peninsula. It appears that Trump will have to ease sanctions against North Korea. Beijing will also support positive outcome of Trump-Kim meeting to protect China’s national interests. If Trump continues with sanctions against North Korea, it will undermine international efforts to bring peace in the Korean Peninsula, undermine bilateral efforts to help normalize relations between both Koreas under Sunshine Policy and help lift North Korean public from abject poverty. Also, Moon will support easing of sanctions against North Korea for having peace in the Korean Peninsula. In case of failure of Trump-Kim meeting(s), South Korea will have to face North Korea, its military aggression and resentment of public in both Koreas and escalation in protests against US military bases in South Korea. It puts Moon in a tough spot.
Furthermore, Trump cannot walk away from the meeting with Kim because he knows that North Korea has become a nuclear state and Kim is not going to dismantle country’s nuclear and missile program. So, he has to protect US interest in the Korean Peninsula at any cost including accepting North Korea as a nuclear state. Otherwise, Moon as part of his election promise is going to work to bring both Koreas together. North Korea and South Korea will come closer and Washington will have no justification to keep US military base in the Korean Peninsula. Beijing will continue to support Pyongyang in China’s national interests. That is one reason, Trump is ignoring Abe’s calls about history of U-turns of North Korea on its commitments. Finally, leaders of North Korea, America and China have shown art of statesmanship, diplomacy and credible alliances in protecting national interests.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.

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