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Optimism has been running high over the prospect of ultimate peace on the Korean Peninsula since the first face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
The talks ended with the signing of a joint statement in which the leaders vowed to remain engaged in peace talks. During the meeting, Trump promised to end war games on the peninsula. For years, the U.S. and South Korea had carried out joint exercises to deter North Korea. In exchange, Kim said North Korea would begin the denuclearization process. This was the first diplomatic meeting in history between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean head of state.
Some goodwill moves have been made by both sides since the summit. North Korea has ceased nuclear and missile tests, and a nuclear test site was dismantled. The top leaders of both Koreas have met three times since the beginning of the peace progress. U.S.-South Korean military exercises have been on hold as promised.
The “honeymoon” between the two protagonists of the saga — President Trump and Chairman Kim — seems to be continuing. Private letters have been exchanged and compliments for each other said. Trump has extolled Kim on several occasions. In a recent speech, he said, “He wrote me beautiful letters, great letters, and then we fell in love.”
Trump has revealed that he is planning to hold a second meeting with Kim. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has paid four visits to Pyongyang and both Kim and Pompeo said that they would “continue to make progress on agreements made at Singapore Summit.” Pyongyang and Seoul are talking about the possibility of signing an agreement to replace the armistice signed in 1953, officially ending the Korean War.
Much of the world is anticipating the advent of one of the greatest historical events after the end of World War II: the end of the 65-year-long standoff between two countries of one nation, thus defusing a deadliest bomb on earth.
But does all this seem too surreal? Does the miracle come too fast and too easy?
My intuition cautions me not to be too optimistic about a swift solution to the long-standing issue. The complexity of the issue is beyond anyone’s imagination.
It remains to be observed whether Trump is politically determined to solve the issue for good regardless of any consequences or he is just flirting with the matter as an expedient way to make political capital out of it for the midterm elections and his re-election.
Without the termination of decades of entrenched hostility and a “words for words” and “action for action” program, the ethereal romance will come to an end soon.
The international community has witnessed an earnest commitment on the part of North Korea to implement the points that Kim and Trump agreed to in June in Singapore. Kim has pledged to permanently dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex and promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad.
But according to Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, despite his country’s proactive moves, Pyongyang doesn’t “see any corresponding response” from Washington. On the contrary, Ri said, the U.S. is increasing pressure and sanctions.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Ri said, “Without any trust in the U.S., there will be no confidence in our national security,” and “under such circumstances there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first.”
“The perception that sanctions can bring us to our knees is a pipe dream of the people who are ignorant about us,” Ri said, adding that the continued sanctions are “deepening our mistrust” and deadlocking the current diplomacy.
Before such thorny issues are finally addressed as whether the U.S. will recognize the legitimacy of the DPRK and how it will guarantee the security of the communist country, there is little room for optimism.
So far, few concrete actions have been taken by Washington to respond to North Korea’s constructive moves. Exchange of friendly words is better than that of threats, but only effective deeds work. The window of opportunity won’t be open long.
After all, Trump’s flip-flops on international affairs have greatly discredited himself.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)