So, we enter the next phase of the negotiations over the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula … having made the world heave a sigh of relief and, almost certainly, gotten himself mentioned in Nobel Peace Prize discussions, North Korea has now, according to an article in the South China Morning Post, “threatened Wednesday to cancel the forthcoming summit between leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump if Washington seeks to push Pyongyang into unilaterally giving up its nuclear arsenal.“
Wait a sec … wasn’t Kim Jong-un the guy who wanted to discuss “denuclearizing” the Korean Peninsula? Well, yes, but that was, most likely just a ploy to divert attention from other issues, including the accidental destruction of North Korea’s nuclear test site. He may have no choice but to suspend nuclear testing but it has appeared, in the last few weeks, that President Trump is prepared to be assertive. I think that President Trump has put many world leaders off balance by his apparent lack of interest in the established diplomatic and strategic patterns and his willingness to rush in, boldly, “where angels fear to tread.”
North Korea must walk something of a tightrope between an somewhat unpredictable United States administration and a generally better understood Chinese one. Kim knows, I suspect, precisely what Xi Jinping wants … my guess is that was made abundantly clear at two recent meetings. He (and Xi) also has some better insights in to what President Trump might demand in June thanks to a meeting with CIA Chief Pompeo. I think that he, Kim Jong-un, fears China more than he fears anything America might do and, further, he needs China, not America, to survive. I have said before that the US probably has the technical capacity to execute a devastating surprise attack that would, indeed, “decapitate” North Korea but I doubt that it, or any military power, has the capabilities to do that without incurring so much damage to South Korea and to the US forces there that it would be a Pyrrhic victory of the worst sort imaginable. I believe that Xi and Kim understand this and that they believe that, despite recent changes in the US administration, people like Secretary James Mattis still have great, perhaps decisive influence in the Oval Office.
What do Kim and Xi want?
I think the long term answer is simple: all significant American forces to leave the East Asian mainland. I suspect the Chinese will tolerate American bases in island nations like Japan and the Philippines …
… but not in Thailand or, especially South Korea.
The Chinese position is not, entirely, unreasonable … remember America’s reaction when the USSR attempted to put missiles in Cuba:
This latest “blip” in negotiations seems to be in response to comments made by US National Security Advisor John Bolton over the weekend. He, Bolton, may have been intentionally provocative to try to rest the limits of Chinese-North Korean resolve. Kim may, in return, be testing America’s willingness to negotiate anything.
In my estimation the talk in Singapore are almost certain to go on as scheduled and produce not much of anything of value. But, for other reasons, North Korean nuclear testing will cease … maybe permanently; but we must remember that it still has missiles that can reach, at least, Guam and Japan and it likely has the ability to “mate” small warheads to medium range missiles.
But, says Richard Haas, of the Council of Foreign Relations, referring to a New York Times article …
… it also reflects, as Mr Haas says, the triumph of hope over experience, which is, sad to say, a common feature of policy and politics in the US led West. We, Americans, Brits, Canadians, Danes and so on, all seem to rely too much on well publicized hopes when often bitter experience says that conservative caution is best.