In this file photo taken on June 12, US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic summit in Singapore. Pyongyang on Thursday dashed Trump’s hopes for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Photo: AFP
In this file photo taken on June 12 last year, US President Donald Trump, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic summit in Singapore. Photo: AFP

Now that the United States has announced that the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place at the end of this month, the world is once again zooming in on the two countries that had vowed to blow each other sky high in some intense verbal sparring.

Unlike the first summit in Singapore in June 2018, the second Trump-Kim meeting is likely to face more challenges due to Washington’s demand that North Korea must follow through with denuclearization.

What is noteworthy is that it was Trump himself who first announced the time and location of the summit. “It will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27 & 28. I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!” Trump tweeted on February 9, expressing high expectations for the event.

Either a mutually recognized timetable or a roadmap for denuclearization – even a simple promise from Pyongyang – could be a big plus for Trump come election time, as it would give him a diplomatic achievement to boast about.

In his State of the Union address on February 5, Trump said he planned to meet with Kim on February 27-28 in Vietnam but did not specify the venue. According to US sources, Washington had considered a summit in the port city of Da Nang, the US military’s point of entry in the Vietnam War, but Pyongyang reportedly favored Hanoi. If this is true, the United States may well have made some concessions in order to bring Kim to the table.

Ahead of the summit, Trump has already expressed optimism about the future of North Korea. Taking Vietnam as a role model, Trump said that under the leadership of Kim, North Korea will become a great “Economic Powerhouse.”

He added: “I have gotten to know him [Kim] & fully understand how capable he is. North Korea will become a different kind of Rocket – an Economic one!”

After the first summit – even though Pyongyang did not make any specific commitments concerning the elimination of its nuclear arsenal – Pyongyang refrained from conducting any nuclear or missile tests. Trump claimed that the meeting had largely resolved the long-standing nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

As the Trump-Kim Summit 2.0 approaches, Pyongyang is being discreet in both its words and actions. On February 8, the 71st anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, the country did not hold a large-scale military parade like it did last year when Pyongyang showcased the Hwasong-15 new intercontinental ballistic missile, which is allegedly capable of striking the US mainland.

In addition, the tone of articles published by the North Korean media on the anniversary was unusually subdued. On February 8, the front-page editorial of the Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, did not focus on nuclear development as it usually does, or refer to “US imperialism.” It merely emphasized the need for the country’s army to continue demonstrating its invincible strength. This change in tone could be attributable to the upcoming summit.

Diplomatic progress

Given the diplomatic progress made as a result of the first summit in Singapore, the international community, especially the United States, is hopeful that the second meeting will lead to progress in key areas including denuclearization, but Washington’s specific objectives have not been unveiled.

However, before meeting with officials in Pyongyang recently to work out the details of the second summit, Stephen Biegun, Washington’s special envoy for North Korea-related issues, said the US would be aiming for “a roadmap of negotiations and declarations going forward, and a shared understanding of the desired outcomes of our joint efforts.”

Some American scholars believe the second summit could set the stage for some major agreements, and that both sides might work together to iron out the details of a Korean War ceasefire declaration, which would be a historically significant achievement.

While North Korea appears to be fully committed to the meeting, it has also been conveying the message that Pyongyang hopes the United States will relax the sanctions it is imposing.

“I think there is every opportunity that Chairman Kim will move on to fulfill the commitments that he made, and then we will, in turn, fulfill the commitments we made towards stability on the peninsula and a better future, a brighter future, for the North Korean people,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a  TV interview earlier this month.

Shi Jiangyue is a columnist for the Asia Times Chinese website.


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