Monday, October 22, 2018
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Commentary

Make or break for the Trump-Kim summit

In the coming days, the world spotlight will be on the summit between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un. If it happens, the Singapore summit promises to turn the Korean Peninsula into a zone of peace with global implications.

Trump swears that the summit should be about North Korea’s denuclearization. But Pyongyang expects it to hinge on principles spelled out in the Panmunjon Declaration that was signed at the April 27 historic summit of Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Kim and Moon agreed, among others, to cease all hostile acts; bring an end to the 1953 armistice; and establish a peaceful and nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

But, baring the lack of a coherent foreign policy on Pyongyang’s peace overtures, Trump officials led by national security adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence threatened to apply the Libyan model and unleash tougher economic sanctions on North Korea, unless Kim made good his word on denuclearization. (The “Libyan model” was the rendition and merciless killing of Gadhafi by Nato and US forces in 2011 after the Libyan leader vowed to nationalize western oil companies.)

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Against American browbeating, Pyongyang offered the hand of peace to both Trump and Moon, followed by two summits between Kim and Moon. It also freed three Korean-Americans accused of spying, and blew up its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

As the summit draws nearer, both Trump and Kim bring two opposing perspectives: One obsessed with the overthrow of a “rogue regime” that has persisted for seven decades, and the other hanging tough with a socialist system and a modern military to defend itself.

Two months following the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, the United States signed with Seoul a mutual defense treaty that placed South Korea under the nuclear protection of America. In 1956, the United States installed atomic weapons in South Korea, declaring that it was not bound by paragraph 13 of the armistice pact that banned nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula.

To bring down the Pyongyang government, the United States has imposed economic embargoes and other sanctions since 1950. Such brutal measures, which have doomed the lives of North Korean children, the old and the sick, along with threats of preemptive attack by the United States on the country, continue today amid fruitless bilateral and six-party talks held in recent years to bring peace to the area.

Haunted by the specter of foreign aggression, North Korea built its own nuclear program while keeping its economy humming under the Juche self-reliance ideology. US propaganda since the 1950s that stereotypes a “hermit kingdom” about to collapse cannot hide the fact that North Korea’s citizens pay no income tax and enjoy free health services and education, with a 99-percent literacy rate—higher than the south’s 98 percent.

Ambiguities cloud the June 12 summit, however. Until now, what “denuclearization” means remains vague. Trump officials have insisted on a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Nuclear tests have been frozen, but Kim is mum on whether Pyongyang would give up nukes capable of hitting US targets.

The desirable reciprocal act to any denuclearization is the withdrawal of 30,000 US troops and military bases from South Korea. The Pentagon says this is not on the summit table.

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Other countries and world leaders who have stakes or keen interest in the coming talks, particularly China, Russia and the UN secretary general, call the summit a step in the right direction and a rare opportunity not to be lost. With both Trump and Kim taking the first step, the summit may kick off a series of tough negotiations using trilateral and multilateral six-party talks, with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia joining in.

The thorny issues that will be tackled protractedly include freezing North Korea’s nuclear development, followed by denuclearization, an end to economic sanctions and war exercises, the phased withdrawal of US forces and bases, and, finally, a peace or non-aggression treaty signed by all parties.

Any breakthrough in this regard will depend on the United States’ willingness to respect North Korea’s sovereign rights, and to stop acting as the world’s policeman.

Bobby M. Tuazon is CenPEG’s director for policy studies and teaches at the University of the Philippines.

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