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Trump-Kim summit

Concessions must be made if North Korea is to take new path

  • The next summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is an opportunity to formulate realistic plans, a timetable and take bold steps – it has to be more than just a political show
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 11:20pm

All signs point towards the leaders of North Korea and the United States holding a second summit soon. President Xi Jinping gave backing during his latest meeting in Beijing with Kim Jong-un, who, like his American counterpart Donald Trump, has expressed eagerness for further discussions on denuclearisation. Kim’s four trips over the past 10 months have taken place in or around summits with his US or South Korean opposite numbers, proving the importance of Beijing to the process. But the Chinese role is for now only to encourage and support; success depends on Pyongyang and Washington being able to find a meaningful way forward.

There has been limited progress since the historic summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June. It calmed tensions, halting Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests. But the lack of detail in the deal signed meant further talks between the sides would be crucial and disagreement over the terms has stymied headway. The North claims to have dismantled a nuclear testing site and key missile engine facility, and believes it should be rewarded by the lifting of United Nations sanctions imposed over the tests, and formal declaration by the US of an end to the 1950-53 Korean war.

Beijing birthday visit for Kim ahead of second Trump summit

Kim said in a New Year speech that he remained committed to denuclearisation, but warned he would change course if sanctions remained. The North’s closest diplomatic and trading partner, China, ally Russia and rival South Korea, have all voiced support for an easing or lifting of the measures. Kim also said economic development was a priority and his desire for reform has been evident during trips to China; on his latest, he visited a technology zone and pharmaceutical plant. He has also made overtures to Seoul in speeches and two summits with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, proposing that joint projects at the Kaesong industrial park and Mount Kumgang tourism resort resume.

North Korea putting its energies into economic development rather than military expansion is obviously good for the region. China, through the experience gained of 40 years of reform and the lifting of 500 million people from extreme poverty, has much expertise to offer, making maintaining and strengthening relations important to success. The right direction has been set so far this year, the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the nations, with Xi accepting Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang this year.

The next summit between Kim and Trump is an opportunity to formulate realistic plans, a timetable and take bold steps. The meeting has to be more than just a political show; concessions have to be made to encourage North Korea to permanently discard a military-first strategy in favour of peaceful growth and development.