Trump enjoys symbolic success but much remains to be done

Only new development is US agreement to stop joint military drills with South Korea

US president Donald Trump says that North Korea leader Kim Jong-un is fully committed to the "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean peninsula following their meeting in Singapore. Video: Reuters

 

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un left Singapore after their first meeting clearly pleased with the way the summit had been received in their respective countries and around the world, but the sense is the day was largely symbolic with much left to be done.

The summit has been compared to president Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China to reopen relations with Chairman Mao Zedong, which kick-started the process of China’s opening up to the rest of the world.

Whether the Kim-Trump summit is stage one in a similar evolutionary leap remains to be seen. Trump did indicate that this was to be a long process.

The only really new development was US agreement to stop joint military drills with South Korea, which is a major concession to North Korea’s concerns about security.

For his part, Kim merely reiterated what he had said about being committed to denuclearisation in the Panmunjom declaration signed with South Korean president Moon Jae-in April.

In 1993, the US and North Korea signed an eerily similar deal agreeing to the principle of “peace and security in a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, including impartial application of fullscope safeguards”, but that deal collapsed soon afterwards.

The next step will almost certainly be to bring in other regional powers.

One of the more telling pictures was of Moon watching the summit on his computer before a cabinet meeting. He wished it success, but the energetic South Korean leader will be crucial to taking the process forward, a fact acknowledged by Trump who said: “I’m calling Moon as soon as this is over”.

Sanctions

Another major regional player is China. Beijing has been sidelined a little by the talks, although it has argued for years about the necessity of getting Washington and Pyongyang at a table and President Xi Jinping also hosted Kim twice in the run-up to the summit.

Foreign minister Wang Yi has been quick to call for debate on lifting sanctions if North Korea meets its responsibilities and Beijing looks set on assuming a more central role in dealing with its ideological ally.

“China views the Korean peninsula nuclear issue as a security issue, and what is most important is for the United States and North Korea to sit down to find a way to resolve their problems,” Wang said.

“At the same time, there needs to be a peace mechanism for the peninsula, to resolve North Korea’s reasonable security concerns,” he said. “I think nobody can doubt the extremely unique and important role China has played. And this role will continue.”

Russia has also made overtures to Kim and Japan’s Shinzo Abe was the last person to visit Washington before Trump left on his journey to Singapore.

Trump explicitly name-checked Xi, Abe and Moon numerous times during his news briefing, referring to each as a “friend of mine”, and the picture emerging is of some kind of re-engineered six-party talks on nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula.

These talks, hosted by Beijing and featuring both Koreas, Russia, Japan and the US, stalled in 2009 but if the current group of leaders can maintain momentum, then the prospects for the Trump-Kim Singapore summit being the first step in a major peace process look a lot brighter.

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