Kim-Trump Summit – a Game Changer?

13 04 2018

Pivot to Asia pic(RADIO SPUTNIK, John Harrison’s PIVOT TO ASIA, 12.04.2018) The much-heralded summit between President Trump and N. Korean leader Kim Jung-un is apparently going ahead, and preparatory negotiations are already taking place. What do we know of the agenda, and how important is it for Kim Jung-un to have Russia and China’s approval of negotiation terms. Joining the program to talk about this situation is Dr Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra.

Despite the situation in Syria, Dr Petrov feels that the summit will go ahead, because negotiations between the White House, the State Department and North Korean negotiators are taking place, so there is every reason to expect that the summit will happen before or during May. The situation is serious, with the Japanese recently activating their naval units for the first time since the Second World War. “It looks like there is a multilateral preparation going on for a potential tectonic shift with China and Russia on one side, the United States, Australia and Japan on the other, and South Korea somewhere in between…”

Japan sees the likelihood of the summit yielding positive results as being quite low, indeed Japan possibly sees the summit as being little other than a delaying tactic. Dr Petrov says: “Japan believes that it is a victim of the North Korean nuclear program,…however at the same time there have even been rumors that [Japan’s] Prime Minister Abe was also interested in having a summit with Kim Jung-un…”

China is perhaps in a difficult situation because on the one hand Beijing hopes that there will be an agreement reached at the summit but on the other hand will no doubt insist that US troops do not enter North Korea, as that would mean that they will be able to position themselves along the Chinese border, something the Chinese would never agree to. Dr Petrov comments:

“China has the so called three ‘No policies’ towards the Korean peninsula. Beijing doesn’t want to see another war in Korea, it doesn’t want the Korean peninsula to be nuclear, and they don’t want the North Korean regime to collapse….N. Korea [to the Chinese] plays the very important role of a buffer state separating the militarized South Korea from China, from Russia and definitely Beijing and Moscow would be very cautious about a major change in geopolitics; that’s why they are doing everything possible to support the regime despite joining the international sanctions against North Korea….Pyongyang and Beijing signed the Mutual Friendship and Security Treaty in 1961, which is still in force and it will remain in force until 2021….Kim Jong-un has very skillfully played Beijing off against Moscow and has tried to maintain an equidistant approach; milking both Russia and China, and it looks like Kim Jong-un is going to continue this policy. This time, North Korea is at a crossroads, whether to have a major deal, an agreement with the United States or not….All eyes in Moscow and Beijing are now on North Korea. Kim Jong-un understands this, and he tries to ensure his success in negotiations by having Russia and China as allies, not as enemies.”

The United States’ major goal is clearly to see North Korea de-nuclearized, however there is also the possibility of Trump offering a grand bargain, “‘everything for everything’ which potentially may work well for Kim Jung-un who is also a maverick leader and who is prepared to go ahead with unconventional negotiating strategies,…it looks like everything is right for the summit, in terms of a potential list of topics for discussions, but the interpretations can be very different. For example, the United States talks about the denuclearization of North Korea whilst the North Koreans talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…”

If the Americans can guarantee the future existence of North Korea is not clear, because, as Dr Petrov points out: “for the Americans, the alliance with South Korea and Japan is not just a symbolic thing. It’s a matter of revenue. The American military industrial complex provides [American] allies in the region with state-of-the-art military equipment, jet fighters, anti-missile systems, and without North Korea, without an aggressive, irrational, dangerous North Korea, no one would buy them.”

For the Americans, it is clearly important that Trump is able to make a deal with Kim, even if only to show that the US is still the biggest boy on the block in the region. “There could be a number of scenarios. One scenario would be that the status quo is maintained and there is no change to the Cold War structure, animosity, distrust and the arms race. For the United States, I believe this is the most preferred option. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo support the White House’s decision to negotiate with Kim Jong-un actually….They think it is likely to be just a meeting which would lead to nothing. The second scenario which would be a major breakthrough would be where Trump and Kim agree on bettering relations in principal, something verifiable, something irreversible. But denuclearization of North Korea cannot be verified, nobody would trust the North Korean leader because somewhere in the mountains there might be just one last nuclear device hidden for a rainy day. Trust must be built up and to build trust there should be more than just one handshake and a photo opportunity. Sanctions should be lifted, security assurances must be provided, there should be potential diplomatic recognition of North Korea…” Such a peace treaty would be a major step forward.

One thing is clear, Kim Jung-un needs to have Beijing and Moscow on its side before negotiations start. The North Korea foreign minister Ri Yong Ho just concluded a visit to Moscow when this program was recorded and conducted talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart.

RADIO SPUTNIK would love to get your feedback at radio@sputniknews.com

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Do of the day no joke

30 03 2014

NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM(By James Giggacher, ANU Asia & Pacific, 28 March 2014) North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has again caught the attention of international media, but not for the usual sabre-rattling or Dennis Rodman roadshow he’s known for. This time it’s his hair that’s made the headlines.

According to reports from Radio Free Asia, a state-sanctioned directive requiring male students to cut their hair in the same style as their leader has been rolled out across the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The guideline was introduced in the capital Pyongyang two weeks ago. But in a place known for its secrecy and subterfuge, questions have been raised about whether the story is even true.

According to North Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, it’s “nothing sensational at all”. “Back in 2004, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s state TV launched a propaganda campaign called ‘Let us trim our hair in accordance with socialist lifestyle’,” says Petrov.

“It recommended a relatively generous range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens, claiming that they are ‘the most comfortable’ styles and capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism.” Petrov adds that young men were more restricted; their hair had to be less than five centimetres long and they were required to have a haircut every 15 days.

“Longer hair apparently takes away nutrition from their brains,” says Petrov. “Older men, whose brains are presumably in decline anyway, were allowed to rock out with hair as long as seven centimetres.”

The ‘socialist lifestlye’ haircuts are tied closely to North Korea’s philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which the regime uses to distance itself from ‘the West’. “And while North Korea enforces haircuts, some foreigners choose the Juche-style voluntarily,” says Petrov.

So who knows; the next time the leader is in the media it may not be as agent provocateur, but rather for a perm. It’s a hair-raising issue either way you look at it.





North Korea Warns of ‘Simmering Nuclear War’

30 03 2013

LP_Al Jazeera interview_JPEG_small (Al Jazeera News, 27 March 2013) North Korea has again threatened war against South Korea and the United States, saying conditions “for a simmering nuclear war” have been created on the peninsula. The communist state’s foreign ministry said it will inform the UN Security Council of the latest situation, as tensions continue to simmer on Wednesday.

“Upon authorisation of the Foreign Ministry, the DPRK openly informs the UN Security Council  that the Korean Peninsula now has the conditions for a simmering nuclear war,” the statement said. “This is because of provocation moves by the US and South Korean puppets”.

As this developed, the North announced it was cutting a military hotline with the South, meaning that all direct inter-government and military contact has been suspended after it previously cut a Red Cross link. “From now, the North-South military communications will be cut off,” the North Korean state news agency quoted a military official as saying.

In another sign of brewing tensions, a South Korean soldier standing on guard at the inter-Korean border threw a grenade towards a moving object in the dark early Wednesday, sparking a short-lived alarm. At daylight, a patrol searched the area but there was no trace of any infiltration from North Korea, a South Korean ministry spokesman said. A precautionary alert, which had been issued for South Korean units in the northeastern county of Hwacheon, was consequently lifted.

Earlier in the day, the North had repeated threats to target US military bases. Pyongyang said its military would put all field artillery units, including long-range artillery units and strategic rocket units, into combat duty position that will target all “enemy objects” in the US, “invasionary” bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam. The rhetoric from North Korea drew more concern from China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, which said the situation was “sensitive”.

‘Attention-seeking behaviour’

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert at Sydney’s Australian National University, said North’s “attention-seeking behaviour” is in response to it feeling “cornered” by the international community. “The regime wants the people of North Korea to be consolidated behind its young leader Kim Jung-un,” Petrov said.

But Petrov also said he doubts the North will attack first, adding that its capability to target the US remains limited. Still, he warned that if something happens between the North and the US, “definitely Seoul is going to suffer”. On the other hand, Petrov said, the North is also hinting that it is ready to negotiate. “Pyongyang really want to have a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the growing problem,” he said.

South Korea and the US military are conducting military drills until the end of April, which they have stressed are strictly defensive in nature. The North accuses Washington of war preparations by using B-52 bombers, which have flown over the Korean peninsula as part of the drills, and it has abrogated an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

See also “US deploys bombers amid Korea tensions” (Al Jazeera New, 28 March 2013)