File photo: Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for DPRK, arrived in the ROK on the afternoon of February 3.
By Du Chaoping
The second summit between the top leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam at the end of February. Many parties are hopeful for substantive breakthroughs in this summit. But Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for DPRK said frankly that it would be impossible to solve all the difficult issues within a short period of time. While Andrey Denisov, Russian ambassador to China, said that the six-party talks are still paramount, and without the talks, it will be difficult to implement any agreement reached in the event of the second summit between the DPRK and the United States.
All parties have high expectations on the second Trump-Kim summit, in the meantime, are still in a wait-and-see mode.
On February 12, General Robert B. Abrams, commander of the United States Forces Korea pointed out that although the tension between the US and the DPRK has eased greatly, the DPRK military strength has "almost no verifiable changes" and is still measured as a strong military threat since the first Trump-Kim summit. The same "no verifiable changes" go for the military deterrence of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The ROK military publicly exhibited the burrow bomb known as the “bunker buster” and announced to start components manufacturing for domestically-made fifth-generation jet fighters on February 14.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, the US-ROK joint military exercise might be an important topic of the second Trump-Kim summit, and the outcome of the summit is likely to affect the 2019 plan of exercises. In his New Year address, Kim Jong-un, top leader of the DPRK, called for the ROK and the United States to halt their joint military exercise, and stop sending strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula. Analysts believed that the DPRK will take this as a prerequisite for creating a permanent peace atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula and may actively promote the inclusion of the above issue in the second summit between heads of the DPRK and the United States.
An editorial published on the Singapore-based Lianhe Zaobao website said that although the first Trump-Kim summit is widely regarded as a historical breakthrough, it is undeniable that the joint statement issued is vague and general in content, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is still hard to realize after the summit. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed out that the second DPRK-US summit will focus on issues such as easing tension on the Korean Peninsula and reducing the danger of military conflicts. The goal on the US part is to “go as far as possible”.
How far can the summit progress? The ROK side is very optimistic about this question. During the presidential meeting held at the Blue House on February 11, President Moon Jae-in said that the second summit between the DPRK and the United States is expected to bring a major turn for peace on the peninsula. It will help achieve more specific progress in the denuclearization of the peninsula for which the two sides have reached a framework agreement, building a new and improved DPRK-US relationship, and establishing the peace mechanism on the peninsula. According to the ROK’s Dong-a Ilbo, the DPRK and the United States have narrowed their differences during the three-day working-level talk held in Pyongyang and have decided to include the armistice statement and part of declarations to the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in the Hanoi Declaration adopted at the second summit. Furthermore the peninsula peace agreement could be reached during this summit.
This seems idealistic. Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for DPRK who has been leading the negotiations with the DPRK representatives, pointed out that the breakthrough achieved on denuclearization of the peninsula is a prerequisite for the normalization of DPRK-US relations, while the two sides still have enormous differences. It’s an impossible mission to bridge the huge strategic differences since only one week has left before the second summit. Analysts pointed out that in order to avoid being accused of making a “TV show”, US President Donald Trump may accept a “phased”, “synchronized” approach for the denuclearization program.
Since the first Trump-Kim summit, the Trump administration has publicly stated that it would lift its sanctions against the DPRK only after the DPRK completely abandons its nuclear program. It has optimistically claimed that the denuclearization could be completed in a relatively short period of time.
Patrick M. Cronin, senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Hudson Institute, a US think tank, said that currently the focus of the US-DPRK negotiations is to find a way to effectively initiate the process of denuclearization. There is room for common efforts of the two sides in this regard. Cronin believed that if the DPRK side could carry out some substantive and irreversible denuclearization operations such as destroying part of the nuclear warheads or part of the missile facilities, and allow international experts to conduct on-site inspections, the US side, in exchange, may consider further enhancing support for establishing the peace mechanism on the peninsula and support the establishment of an international escrow account to promote the DPRK’s infrastructure construction, or the US may make explicit commitment to lifting some sanctions against the DPRK after its specific denuclearization operations get implemented.
The DPRK and the United States serve as key factors affecting the peninsula situation and have always been two important stakeholders in the six-party talks. Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov said in an interview on February 14 that it is not only premature but also inappropriate to abandon the six-party talks because of the summit between the top leaders of the US and the DPRK. In late January, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with Stephen Biegun in Washington and pointed out that Russia welcomes the progress made in terms of US-DPRK relations but believes that the DPRK nuclear issue can only be resolved in the long run with the participation of the members of the six-party talks.
Any advancement in the denuclearization and peace progress of the Korean Peninsula shows the sincerity and courage from all parties. All parties concerned, especially the DPRK and the United States, should cherish the opportunities to meet each other in the halfway in resolving the difficulty with collective wisdom and enthusiasm, and promote the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of a peace mechanism on the peninsula, so as to step up the easing of the situation and end the conflict completely.