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Keeping a close watch on peninsula talks

By Xie Guijuan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-03 07:07

Cai Meng/China Daily

Donald Trump became the first incumbent US President to visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as well as set foot in the Demilitarized Zone between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea on Sunday. And his meeting with DPRK top leader Kim Jong-un was their third since they first met in Singapore in June last year to start talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

These, no doubt, are historic developments. But the world should understand the practical meaning of the latest Trump-Kim meeting.

After what many consider the failure of the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February and with tensions rising on the peninsula, the Sunday meeting showed that both Washington and Pyongyang needed such an occasion to take things forward.

Trump first tweeted that he would like to visit the DPRK to meet with Kim after reaching Osaka, Japan, to attend the just concluded G20 Summit. Pyongyang responded by welcoming him and communicating with the United States administration to finalize the meeting's details.

Pyongyang showed diplomatic flexibility and a strong will to continue the talks with Washington, perhaps because it believes the meeting will help lift some of the sanctions against it so it can focus on its priority task of boosting economic development.

The Trump administration, on its part, arranged for the meeting mainly to garner more votes for Trump in the 2020 presidential election. By being seen as making efforts to improve US-DPRK relations, the Trump administration meets American people's requirement of no war with the DPRK. And any progress made in the denuclearization process will add to Trump's achievements.

However, the meeting between Trump and Kim on Sunday was not necessarily a sign of remarkable improvement in US-DPRK ties or the denuclearization process.

The recent signs of an improvement in US-DPRK ties have been more or less limited to the contacts between the two leaders. Trump claimed he received a "warm letter" from Kim on June 11 and sent a reply, a gesture that Kim praised. At the meeting in the Demilitarized Zone, Trump and Kim agreed to continue the denuclearization talks and to arrange their next summit. Yet such moves are not enough to promote bilateral ties.

Moreover, neither Washington nor Pyongyang is likely to compromise its bottom line and core interests to take the denuclearization process forward. Besides, the lack of mutual trust is still a big hurdle for bilateral talks to proceed smoothly.

Pyongyang would only agree to phased denuclearization while requiring Washington to correspondingly guarantee its security and lift the sanctions. But the US demands the complete denuclearization of the DPRK before giving it any security guarantee and lifting the sanctions. Even though the Trump administration would prefer to make the denuclearization talks a short-term deliberation, pressure from the US Congress and Democratic Party may curb the administration's efforts to make such a compromise.

It is doubtful therefore whether the two countries' negotiation teams can reach an agreement on the denuclearization process, and whether they can take reciprocal actions to secure mutual trust.

Moreover, countries such as the ROK, China, Japan and Russia are also stakeholders in the Korean Peninsula peace process so the denuclearization process cannot proceed beyond a certain point without their participation.

The positive signals that emerged from the latest Trump-Kim meeting should prompt Washington to reconsider its peninsula policy, starting by reviewing its rigid demand that the DPRK complete the denuclearization process before sanctions can be lifted and security guarantee provided. Considering Trump said he is in "no rush" to reach a deal, the US administration might change the tough requirements and choose to keep both countries at the negotiation table for a complicated and long-term denuclearization talks.

And before Washington and Pyongyang manage to break the current stalemate by taking concrete moves, the international community should pay close attention to the situation while making constructive contributions to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

The author is a professor of international politics at Yanbian University.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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