Sun, Jun 17, 2018 - Page 6 News List

N Korea-US summit is a milestone

By Joseph Tse-hei Lee 李榭熙

Under Soviet and Chinese pressure in the mid-1950s, Kim II-sung introduced the concept of juche in 1955. Permeating all levels of society, the ideology motivated the entire population to sacrifice for state-building and nullified US pressure to force a regime collapse.

For decades, Pyongyang has demanded that Washington withdraw its military from the peninsula and sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, but the US dismissed the North’s demands. Against this backdrop, North Korea acquired nuclear technology from Pakistani scientists in the 1990s.

By 2001, when Bush took office, the North had the scientific knowledge and skills to produce nuclear weapons. For the US, the objective of diplomatic engagement was to persuade Pyongyang to slow down, if not dismantle, its nuclear weapons programs.

By comparison, China has shown a great deal of hesitation toward the Trump-Kim summit. China strives to replace the Cold War structure with a new multilateral order against the US.

China’s involvement in the previous rounds of six-nation nuclear talks was a defense against any potential US attacks on the North and a response to the Sino-American rivalry over Taiwan.

It can be anticipated that any settlement with North Korea will inevitably lead to a clarification of the US policy on Taiwan.

The latest efforts by Trump and Kim to seek common ground on the nuclear issue signaled a qualitative change in the bilateral relationship. The summit in Singapore suggests that the US publicly acknowledges North Korea as an equal in substantive negotiations.

To Kim Jong-un, political survival and power consolidation dictate his decision to reduce tensions with the US. Since proclaiming itself a nuclear state, North Korea appears to be operating in a larger international arena.

Dissatisfied with its status as a client of the US, South Korea has reached out to the North directly. This reconciliatory sentiment manifested itself in the Moon-Kim summit in Panmunjom in April.

Key for the US is how to contain a nuclear North Korea while preserving its defense alliances with South Korea and Japan.

In these webs of geopolitical encounters, North Korea has taken advantage of Sino-US rivalries, playing one against the other to empower itself.

Joseph Tse-Hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.

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