The View From Asia

Kim's belligerent, Trump's firm. Talks? Uncertain

Asia News Network writers analyse progress on efforts to get Pyongyang to denuclearise. Here are excerpts:

Back to square one

The Korea Herald, South Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has bet again on mediating another inter-Korea summit to revive stalled nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

Nothing would be more desirable than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accepting Mr Moon's offer and holding his third summit with US President Donald Trump to take sincere steps to denuclearise in return for sanctions relief.

But this is but wishful thinking.

In a speech to the Supreme People's Assembly last week, Mr Kim did not mention denuclearisation once. He said the US' demands at the Hanoi summit went against the nation's fundamental interests and vowed to crush sanctions with self-reliance efforts if the US continued to make unreasonable demands in return for easing them.

Mr Trump vowed to maintain sanctions against North Korea until it denuclearises completely and sticks to a package deal, rejecting the sort of phased denuclearisation the North wants.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump meeting in the White House last week. The role that Mr Moon should play is not to speak for North Korea as an intermediary between Washington and Pyongyang, says an editorial
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump meeting in the White House last week. The role that Mr Moon should play is not to speak for North Korea as an intermediary between Washington and Pyongyang, says an editorial. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Mr Moon said Mr Kim had clarified his firm commitment to denuclearise and establish peace. But Mr Kim's speech contained no such statement. On the contrary, Mr Kim said he would not make the slightest concession or compromise when it came to his country's fundamental national interests.

Mr Kim did not mention inter-Korea summits either. He demanded that the South stop depending on foreign powers and do everything it can to improve relations unilaterally with the North. In a nutshell, Mr Kim told Mr Moon to take his side and speak for him.

South Korea cannot be a neutral mediator or facilitator when it comes to denuclearisation negotiations. It is under direct threat from North Korean nuclear weapons.

The Moon administration has acted as if it were a neutral mediator. But Mr Trump did not appear to treat Mr Moon as a trustworthy mediator. Mr Moon had a one-on-one summit with Mr Trump last week - for just two minutes. Both Washington and Pyongyang effectively snubbed Mr Moon's mediation.The harder the South tries to just mediate a summit, the more likely it is that it will be dragged along by the North.

The Moon administration should not forget what brought Mr Kim to dialogue. It was tightly coordinated sanctions and pressure rather than Mr Moon's strategy to appease the North and broker summits. The administration must not undermine sanctions and the US alliance under the pretext of mediating summits.

Kim's tactic and Moon's role

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

United States President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in held a meeting in which they exchanged views on their policies on North Korea.

Mr Moon has sketched a vision of invigorating dialogue by accumulating "smaller deals", which involve a combination of phased denuclearisation and rewards such as sanctions relief. Mr Trump effectively brushed off the South Korean side's vision, saying: "At this moment, we're talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of the nuclear weapons."

Regarding Mr Moon's eagerness to resume inter-Korea economic projects, including the Kaesong industrial complex and tourism zone on Mount Kumgang, Mr Trump said bluntly: "This isn't the right time."

If North Korea dismantles all its nuclear weapons, nuclear substances and nuclear-related facilities, the global community will support Pyongyang's economic revival. Mr Moon needs to understand the US stance of aiming for this kind of comprehensive agreement and "big deal".

The role that Mr Moon should play is not to speak for North Korea as an intermediary between Washington and Pyongyang. It is imperative that he not give North Korea any leeway for military provocation, while standing firm on the US-South Korea alliance.

There has been no change to Mr Kim's tactic of trying to win the lifting of sanctions by taking advantage of his positive relationship with Mr Trump and using denuclearisation bit by bit as a bargaining chip. The US, Japan and South Korea are urged to work together to pressure North Korea to make a shift.

Not easy to make real headway

China Daily, China

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he is interested in meeting United States President Donald Trump again only if the US comes to talks with the right attitude.

Speaking last week, Mr Kim said he would wait until the end of this year for the US to decide whether to make a "new calculation" that would enable a third summit meeting to take place.

In what was the most comprehensive review of Pyongyang's recent interaction with Washington, the North Korean leader put the ball decisively back in Washington's court after the US President floated the idea of a third summit.

Washington maintains unabated zeal for a deal of some sort because otherwise the engagement with Pyongyang since last year would be regarded as a failure. So, more likely than not, it will try to find a way to keep the possibility of a summit alive.


After making a couple of reconciliatory gestures, such as freezing nuclear and missile tests and demolishing some test sites, Pyongyang wants something in return.

That is something not unreasonable but which has so far not been forthcoming.

Washington should not anticipate Pyongyang denuclearising in a wholesale, one-off manner. After all, its nuclear missile programmes are the sole bargaining chip it has in its hands.

Rather than surrender its nuclear arsenal in a wholesale manner, it is in Pyongyang's best interests to turn its engagement with Washington into an arms control regime between two nuclear states.

It may be that a third Trump-Kim summit happens. But meaningful headway in denuclearisation entails more than what the two sides appear ready to offer at the moment.

 • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Kim's belligerent, Trump's firm. Talks? Uncertain'. Print Edition | Subscribe