Deep­en­ing Con­fu­sion and Wors­en­ing Prospects

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - By Ra­jaram Panda

Wher­ever it

leads, the road to peace will be long and hard.

The burst of op­ti­mism about the pos­si­bil­ity of denuclearizing North Korea and achiev­ing a peace regime on the Korean Penin­sula that cul­mi­nated in the June sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore be­tween US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, has faded. In its place have come grow­ing doubts and a grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that the road ahead, if it ever re­ally leads to those out­comes, will be a long and hard one, writes Ra­jaram Panda.

the CO­NUN­DRUM over north Korean de­nu­cle­ariza­tion fol­low­ing the trump-kim sum­mit on June 12 in sin­ga­pore is get­ting murkier by the day. to be­gin with, con­flict­ing claims over its out­come are be­ing made by both sides — some­thing that an­a­lysts tend to see as preg­nant with even greater dan­ger than the sit­u­a­tion prior to the sum­mit. the dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers in­volved are also un­will­ing to com­pro­mise, choos­ing in­stead to in­ter­pret things to suit them­selves. the Us, Ja­pan, south Korea, rus­sia and China are not nec­es­sar­ily on the same page, be­cause their re­spec­tive strate­gic and eco­nomic in­ter­ests are at vari­ance with one an­other. the re­al­ity is that north Korea’s de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, over which so much hype was gen­er­ated af­ter the sin­ga­pore sum­mit, seems to be a non-starter.

there are sev­eral im­pon­der­ables in seek­ing what Wash­ing­ton has been in­sist­ing on — “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, and ir­re­versible dis­man­tle­ment” of north Korea’s nu­clear weapons and other weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Only un­der these cir­cum­stances would north Korea be wel­comed into the world com­mu­nity. Ja­pan vir­tu­ally par­rots that Us stance, but is push­ing for the fo­cus to re­main on mis­siles of all ranges rather than merely in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles that could reach the Us main­land. It is also seek­ing a res­o­lu­tion of the is­sue of Ja­panese cit­i­zens ab­ducted by north Korea. De­spite the eu­pho­ria gen­er­ated by the sin­ga­pore sum­mit, Ja­pan re­mains cau­tious about north Korea’s in­ten­tions. China and rus­sia, mean­while, are at odds with Wash­ing­ton and tokyo, and take a softer line to­ward Py­ongyang. For its part, south Korea

seeks peace by any means, be­cause it would be the im­me­di­ate ad­ver­sary in any con­flict sit­u­a­tion.

In the midst of all these con­flict­ing per­cep­tions, Us sec­re­tary of state mike Pom­peo made his third visit to Py­ongyang in early July to work to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. not only did that visit end with vir­tu­ally no out­come, there was a bit of ac­ri­mony af­ter Pom­peo claimed the talks were pro­duc­tive, while Py­ongyang de­scribed them as “re­gret­table.” to make mat­ters worse, a planned visit by Pom­peo to north Korea in late au­gust was called off by Us Pres­i­dent Don­ald trump, be­cause of per­cep­tions that the cir­cum­stances weren’t promis­ing enough.

is kim SIN­CERE?

this raises the ques­tion of whether Kim Jong Un is re­ally sin­cere about keep­ing the prom­ises he made in sin­ga­pore, or whether other fac­tors are pre­vent­ing him from do­ing so. One pos­si­ble rea­son may lie in the fact that Kim has de­cided to pri­or­i­tize eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, which is why he is will­ing to talk about giv­ing up nu­clear weapons. Py­ongyang’s hard­line stance af­ter Pom­peo’s visit in early July gives rise to spec­u­la­tion that Kim is fac­ing re­sis­tance to his eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plan from hard­lin­ers in the military. ac­cord­ing to some un­ver­i­fied re­ports in the Korean me­dia, Kim ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion about the hard­lin­ers when he met south Korean Pres­i­dent moon Jae-in on april 27 in Pan­munjom. If this in­deed is the case, op­ti­mists ex­pect­ing peace to dawn on the Korean Penin­sula might have to re­visit their po­si­tion.

there is also spec­u­la­tion that hard­lin­ers are work­ing se­cretly on the north’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties, de­spite of­fi­cial claims that dis­man­tling the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram has al­ready partly be­gun. Given Py­ongyang’s past record of break­ing prom­ises, the is­sue of a trust deficit is not go­ing to go away eas­ily, ir­re­spec­tive of Kim’s in­ten­tions. this could also be one rea­son why de­nu­cle­ariza­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the Us and north Korea re­main stalled.

Does this mean that Kim does not have full con­trol over the military? there is spec­u­la­tion that Kim may soon re­place Kim yong-chol, vice chair­man of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the north Korean Work­ers’ Party, with For­eign min­is­ter ri yong-ho as the coun­ter­part to mike Pom­peo. If this comes true, then wor­ries that Kim may be los­ing con­trol over the military could be real. Kim yong-chol had been Pom­peo’s op­po­site un­til the June 12 sum­mit be­tween Kim and trump. How­ever, the joint state­ment is­sued at the end of the sum­mit stated that Pom­peo and an un­named “rel­e­vant high-level north Korean of­fi­cial” would seek fol­low-up talks, im­ply­ing that his coun­ter­part could change. Kim is aware that Kim yong­chol, with his military back­ground, holds hard­line views to­ward the Us. It is pos­si­ble that the con­ser­va­tives in Py­ongyang do not feel com­fort­able that Kim Jong Un has opted for a softer stance on the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram. they worry about the regime’s fu­ture in this pos­si­ble changed sce­nario. these un­named “in­ter­nal voices of military hard­lin­ers” are cited as one of the rea­sons why de­nu­cle­ariza­tion talks have not made much progress. How­ever, there could be other views as well. For now, Kim yong-chol re­mains in place.

More fuel pro­duc­tion

the ar­gu­ments and counter ar­gu­ments above stem from in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by Us in­tel­li­gence sources that north Korea is en­gaged in mak­ing more fuel for nu­clear weapons de­spite on­go­ing talks. Us in­tel­li­gence agen­cies cite “un­equiv­o­cal ev­i­dence” that north Korea has con­tin­ued pro­duc­tion of nu­clear fuel at mul­ti­ple se­cret sites in re­cent months and may try to hide these as it seeks sanc­tions re­lief from the Us. If true,

then trump’s boast­ful an­nounce­ment af­ter the June 12 sum­mit that “there is no longer a nu­clear threat from north Korea” needs to be viewed dif­fer­ently. Ob­vi­ously, a sce­nario in which north Korea is step­ping up pro­duc­tion of en­riched ura­nium, while at the same time en­gag­ing in nu­clear diplo­macy with the Us, is not ideal for achiev­ing de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. the sus­pi­cions gain cre­dence be­cause north Korea may have more than one se­cret nu­clear site in ad­di­tion to its known nu­clear-fuel pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity at yong­byon. this leaves room for con­cerns that Py­ongyang is de­ceiv­ing the Us. For now, the pres­ence of ad­di­tional nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties is un­known. the con­fu­sion arises be­cause the joint state­ment is­sued in sin­ga­pore gave no de­tails on how or when Py­ongyang might sur­ren­der its nu­clear weapons.

ahead of the sin­ga­pore sum­mit, north Korea had re­jected uni­lat­er­ally aban­don­ing an arse­nal that it views as an es­sen­tial de­ter­rent against Us ag­gres­sion. there was a vir­tual volte face in sin­ga­pore, where it was an­nounced that it would give up its nu­clear weapons if its se­cu­rity were guar­an­teed. trump claimed this as a vic­tory and an­nounced that Py­ongyang was plan­ning to blow up four of its big test sites, thereby start­ing the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process. ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton-based north Korean mon­i­tor­ing project, 38 north, this was not the case.

amid all this con­fu­sion, while diplo­macy con­tin­ued with Pom­peo’s third visit to Py­ongyang, Ja­pan’s Ky­odo news agency re­ported on July 6 that Kim was eye­ing a sec­ond sum­mit with trump in switzer­land. the sur­prise re­port cited mul­ti­ple diplo­matic sources say­ing that a team of north Korean diplo­mats was sent to Geneva, Bern and Davos to look at con­fer­ence halls and ho­tels as po­ten­tial venues for talks with the Us. no men­tion of such plans was made, how­ever, dur­ing Pom­peo’s July visit to Py­ongyang. the Ky­odo re­port also said that north Korea could be con­sid­er­ing mul­ti­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Us, south Korea and China in the re­main­ing months of 2018 and through 2019.

It may be re­called that Kim Jong Un stud­ied at a ju­nior high school in Bern, and switzer­land had ex­pressed an in­ter­est in the past in host­ing talks be­tween north Korea and the Us. If true, a sec­ond trump-kim sum­mit in Davos, co­in­cid­ing with the an­nual World eco­nomic Fo­rum, could be a pos­si­bil­ity.

pom­peo’s third Visit

Did Pom­peo suc­ceed when he made his third trip since april to Py­ongyang on July 7, his first since the sin­ga­pore sum­mit on June 12, to dis­cuss de­nu­cle­ariza­tion? the visit was to seek clar­ity on how Py­ongyang was plan­ning to dis­man­tle its nu­clear pro­gram, in ad­di­tion to how the re­mains of Us troops miss­ing from the Korean War would be re­cov­ered. Kim yong-chol re­mained his coun­ter­part in the talks, which meant hard­line voices were undi­luted. af­ter vis­it­ing north Korea, Pom­peo also trav­elled to Ja­pan, Viet­nam, abu Dhabi and Brus­sels, where he joined trump at the nato sum­mit.

al­though on this trip Pom­peo spent a night in Py­ongyang — his pre­vi­ous vis­its were all one-day af­fairs — no de­tails were pro­vided on what tran­spired dur­ing the dis­cus­sions be­tween Pom­peo and Kim yong-chol. It also re­mained un­clear for some time whether Pom­peo met with Kim Jong Un, as had been ex­pected, but it was later con­firmed that he did not. as the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s top diplo­mat, Pom­peo con­veyed to the north Kore­ans that the Us was com­mit­ted to reach­ing a deal un­der which north Korea would denu­cle­arize and re­al­ize eco­nomic ben­e­fits in re­turn. Both sides wished to clar­ify “things,” but nei­ther side gave any ex­pla­na­tion of what ex­actly needed to be clar­i­fied, al­though it is not dif­fi­cult to guess that there was lack of clar­ity on how

De­spite the three-hour talks be­tween Pom­peo and Kim Yong-chol over din­ner, no clar­ity emerged over whether Kim Jong Un would honor his prom­ises made in Sin­ga­pore and trans­late them into con­crete ac­tion.

would be in­ter­preted to the sat­is­fac­tion of both sides.

For the Us, un­less its three ba­sic goals — com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of north Korea, se­cu­rity as­sur­ances and the repa­tri­a­tion of re­mains of amer­i­can sol­diers killed dur­ing the Korean War — are met, no fur­ther progress could be ex­pected. left sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion is whether this was a de­par­ture from its ear­lier de­mand that an agree­ment must cover “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.” the fact that this word­ing was no longer be­ing used gave rise to spec­u­la­tion that the Us had be­gun to dial back its de­mands. De­spite the three-hour talks be­tween Pom­peo and Kim yong-chol over din­ner, no clar­ity emerged over whether Kim Jong Un would honor his prom­ises made in sin­ga­pore and trans­late them into con­crete ac­tion. Be­side the nu­clear is­sue, Py­ongyang has yet to re­turn all of the re­mains of the Us troops killed dur­ing the 1950-53 Korean War, de­spite the fact that Kim com­mit­ted at the sum­mit to their “im­me­di­ate repa­tri­a­tion.”

else­where, north Korea also does not want the is­sue of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions to ever be raised. trump faced crit­i­cism from hu­man rights ac­tivists for not rais­ing the is­sue in sin­ga­pore. Just be­fore Pom­peo’s re­cent visit, the north’s staterun Urim­in­zokkiri web­site warned Wash­ing­ton not to pro­voke the north with an “anachro­nis­tic hu­man rights racket” when diplo­matic at­tempts are be­ing pur­sued to im­prove ties.

the nu­clear is­sue gets fur­ther com­pli­cated be­cause no frame­work or guide­posts were agreed to in sin­ga­pore for work­ing to­ward “com“de­nu­cle­ariza­tion”

plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials de­flected crit­i­cism of the sin­ga­pore agree­ment and de­scribed it as a first step in a ne­go­ti­ated process to per­suade Kim to give up his nu­clear weapons. But if the analy­ses by re­searchers and jour­nal­ists sug­gest­ing that north Korea is con­tin­u­ing to in­crease the pro­duc­tion of nu­clear fuel, build more mis­sile launch­ers and ex­pand a key rocket-en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity are cor­rect, then Kim Jong Un’s real in­ten­tions could be put into ques­tion. Per­haps what north Korea re­ally wants is to test trump’s pa­tience and ex­tract max­i­mum con­ces­sions, one pos­si­ble rea­son why there are no clear signs of any progress on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

rash state­ments, risky out­comes

Be that as it may, the re­al­ity is that the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to dis­man­tle the north’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grams in a year is both un­re­al­is­tic and risky. It was rash of trump to make the claim soon af­ter the sum­mit that north Korea was no longer a nu­clear threat, when there was plenty of am­bi­gu­ity in the joint state­ment. trump should have been cir­cum­spect, keep­ing in mind that his pre­de­ces­sors had failed to achieve the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of north Korea in the past quar­ter cen­tury since Py­ongyang be­gan pro­duc­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial for bombs. Fur­ther, Pom­peo’s claim that north Korea would take “ma­jor” nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment steps within the next two years — in other words, be­fore the end of trump’s first term in Jan­uary 2021 — was cer­tainly bullish, given Py­ongyang’s his­tory of eva­sion and re­luc­tance to al­low ver­i­fi­ca­tion of dis­ar­ma­ment agree­ments. trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, John Bolton, went even fur­ther, as­sert­ing that the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process could be com­pleted within a year, so that Py­ongyang could win sanc­tions re­lief and re­ceive aid from Ja­pan and south Korea. such hasty as­ser­tions smacked of diplo­matic im­ma­tu­rity. that trump, Pom­peo and Bolton seem­ingly be­lieved Kim, with­out the north Korean leader be­ing trans­par­ent, meant that they were naïve and open to be­ing de­ceived. In a se­cre­tive regime such as north Korea, it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to know ex­actly the num­ber of nu­clear war­heads in its pos­ses­sion, nor whether there are undis­closed fa­cil­i­ties able to make fis­sile ma­te­rial for nu­clear bombs.

since north Korea and the Us have not yet ne­go­ti­ated the terms un­der which the former would re­lin­quish its weapons, Py­ongyang will surely seek lever­age in dis­cus­sions. If the Us over­looks this pos­si­bil­ity, it could be to the north’s ad­van­tage. Daryl Kim­ball, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the arms Con­trol as­so­ci­a­tion, rightly ob­served: “De­nu­cle­ariza­tion is no sim­ple task. there is no prece­dent for a coun­try that has openly tested nu­clear weapons and de­vel­oped a nu­clear arse­nal and in­fra­struc­ture as sub­stan­tial as the one in north Korea to give up its nu­clear weapons.” David al­bright of the In­sti­tute for sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity sug­gests the Us get Kim to dis­close a com­plete list of all his nu­clear sites and ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing ura­nium and plu­to­nium. He fur­ther sug­gests that trump and Kim should de­cide whether to move the nu­clear weapons out of north Korea to dis­man­tle them or do it in­side the coun­try. Ja­pan’s of­fer to send ex­perts and money to help dis­man­tle them should be ac­cepted.

ac­cord­ing to nu­clear physi­cist siegfried Hecker, a lead­ing ex­pert on north Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, the mag­ni­tude of dis­man­tling its WMD pro­grams is so huge that it could re­quire a 10-year roadmap, based on the be­lief that Py­ongyang will not give up its weapons and weapons pro­grams un­til its se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed. north Korea’s stock­pile is es­ti­mated to in­clude as many as 60 nu­clear de­vices. Hasty prom­ises or writ­ten agree­ments are not enough to achieve the denu-

cleariza­tion goal. Kim could still con­ceal parts of his stock­pile and pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties, in­tend­ing to pre­serve a nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity as the ul­ti­mate guar­an­tor of his dy­nasty’s sur­vival.

lack­ing Clear def­i­ni­tions

the root of the con­fu­sion is that trump and Kim did not es­tab­lish an agreed def­i­ni­tion of “de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.” trump seemed to have ac­cepted north Korea’s po­si­tion that a dis­ar­ma­ment process en­com­passes the en­tire Penin­sula, which would in­clude the Us military pres­ence in south Korea and the re­gion, not just north Korea’s as­sets. In a fast-track move, trump agreed to Py­ongyang’s long-time de­mand, and that of its chief ally China, to stop joint military drills with south Korea. since the an­nual drills are meant to shore up pro­tec­tion for the south against pos­si­ble ag­gres­sion from the north, the two asian al­lies of the Us in the re­gion — south Korea and Ja­pan — were shocked, be­cause nei­ther was con­sulted be­fore an an­nounce­ment was made, al­though both Py­ongyang and Bei­jing were pleased.

there was more con­fu­sion in store as Pom­peo had a tough time an­swer­ing prob­ing ques­tions from the me­dia. the joint state­ment signed in sin­ga­pore called for “com­plete” de­nu­cle­ariza­tion but did not in­clude two other el­e­ments of Wash­ing­ton’s long-stand­ing de­mand that the process also be “ver­i­fi­able” and “ir­re­versible.” later, south Korean For­eign min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha clar­i­fied that north Korea had balked at a writ­ten pledge for “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, but stressed that the goal re­mained the same whether that ex­act phrase was used or not.

adding to the con­fu­sion were the mixed sig­nals sent out by trump, Pom­peo and Bolton af­ter the July 7 visit by Pom­peo. the op­ti­mism demon­strated by the Us, de­spite ob­vi­ous set­backs, was sur­pris­ing. While Pom­peo par­roted trump’s bull- ish views, he at least ad­mit­ted that “there’s still more work to be done” through work­ing groups on both sides. But the fact is that such work­ing groups were also a fea­ture of past nu­clear agree­ments with the north and served only to post­pone even­tual fail­ure. Past prac­tice tells us that form­ing small work­ing groups is an­other stalling tac­tic to cre­ate the il­lu­sion of co-op­er­a­tion. What tran­spired sub­se­quently was that the def­i­ni­tion of the word “de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” re­mained in­con­clu­sive.

‘gang­ster-like’

Hours af­ter Pom­peo had left Py­ongyang, call­ing his talks “pro­duc­tive,” north Korea ac­cused the trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of push­ing a “uni­lat­eral and gang­ster-like de­mand for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” and called it “deeply re­gret­table.” While he re­fused to di­vulge de­tails of his talks with Kim yong-chol, Pom­peo is said to have ex­pressed in pri­vate his doubts that Kim would ever give up his nu­clear weapons.

In blast­ing the talks with Pom­peo, Py­ongyang was con­tend­ing that the Us was de­mand­ing ev­ery­thing and of­fer­ing noth­ing, and warned of “a dan­ger­ous phase” that could “rat­tle our will­ing­ness for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.” to be sure, the tough talk might have been part of a ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy and for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion to ap­pear strong in the face of a long-time bit­ter foe. sev­eral an­a­lysts have en­dorsed, and with some con­vinc­ing rea­sons, Kim’s claim of be­ing the win­ner in deal­ings with trump, in­clud­ing Kim’s recog­ni­tion on the world stage as a states­man wor­thy of a sit-down with an amer­i­can pres­i­dent. trump’s sud­den ac­qui­es­cence to north Korea’s de­mand that the Us end joint military drills and ex­er­cises with south Korea was cited as fur­ther proof of Kim’s ris­ing stature. such vit­ri­olic di­a­tribes, this time one-sided, show just how com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tions are with north Korea, which could take years, if not decades.

this throws up the real chal­lenge for Pom­peo — to de­ci­pher Kim’s real in­ten­tions. If Pom­peo’s ap­par­ent doubts are real, then we are back to square one and the world will have to learn to live with a nu­clear north Korea. seen from this per­spec­tive, Pom­peo’s trip may have been the least “pro­duc­tive” pos­si­ble. He was rather cir­cum­spect in re­act­ing to the “gang­ster-like” re­mark, by say­ing that “the world is a gang­ster” be­cause the same de­mands by the Us are part of a United na­tions se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion.

the en­dur­ing — and deep­en­ing — con­fu­sions also stem from the man­ner in which ne­go­ti­a­tions took place be­tween trump and Kim in sin­ga­pore. there were no note-tak­ers or aides, some­thing un­heard of in the world of high­stakes diplo­macy. no one re­ally knows what trump might have said or promised Kim, leav­ing an­a­lysts to in­ter­pret by fol­low­ing post-sum­mit state­ments by both sides. the sum­mit be­tween trump and rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, dur­ing which the two also had talks with­out note-tak­ers or aides present, threw up the same type of un­cer­tain­ties.

From north Korea, Pom­peo flew to tokyo where he met with his coun­ter­parts from Ja­pan and south Korea, taro Kono and Kang Kyung­wha, re­spec­tively. He ad­mit­ted that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion will be dif­fi­cult and that much work re­mains to be done. not to spoil the mo­men­tum, he shrugged off Py­ongyang’s “gang­ster” re­buke, while cit­ing progress dur­ing the visit to the north. But he re­it­er­ated the Us stand that there will be no sanc­tions re­lief un­til Kim’s pledge to get rid of his nu­clear weapons is met. But it was clear that the north’s state­ments un­der­mined hopes for a quick deal and raised ques­tions about Kim’s in­ten­tions. the two en­voys sought to put the best face on the sit­u­a­tion, with Kono pledg­ing to stand “hand in hand” with Pom­peo on nu­clear talks “to the end,” and Kang af­firm­ing that the shared de­fense pos­ture with the Us would re­main “iron­clad” and “wa­ter­tight” de­spite the can­cel­la­tion of military ex­er­cises. the state­ments, how­ever, did lit­tle to mask the worry in tokyo and seoul.

From tokyo, Pom­peo trav­elled to Hanoi, where he ap­pealed to north Korea’s lead­ers to fol­low Viet­nam’s path in over­com­ing past hos­til­i­ties with the Us. He called on Kim to repli­cate Viet­nam’s “mir­a­cle” of eco­nomic growth by im­prov­ing ties with the Us, vow­ing that amer­ica keeps its prom­ises with former foes.

But there are rea­sons why north Korea can­not repli­cate Viet­nam’s path to eco­nomic growth and pros­per­ity. If the Us con­tin­ues pur­su­ing its “max­i­mum pres­sure cam­paign” of eco­nomic and diplo­matic iso­la­tion, it will only harden Py­ongyang’s stance. Un and Us sanc­tions have cut 90 per­cent of north Korea’s ex­port rev­enue. But so long as China re­mains north Korea’s prin­ci­pal ally and backer, de­spite main­tain­ing cos­metic sanc­tions, the geo-strate­gic ma­trix could con­tinue to weigh in the north’s fa­vor. there­fore, Py­ongyang re­mains un­per­turbed. amid all these de­vel­op­ment, Ja­pan re­ported on June 29 a sus­pected ship-to-ship trans­fer of goods in the wa­ters around north Korea. this is be­lieved to be the eighth in­stance in 2018 alone. such clan­des­tine deal­ings keep the north’s econ­omy afloat. Given facts such as these, the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is­sue is un­likely to be re­solved any­time soon. ra­jaram panda is cur­rently lok sabha re­search fel­low, par­lia­ment of in­dia. he was former se­nior fel­low at the in­sti­tute for de­fence stud­ies and analy­ses, New delhi, and un­til re­cently iccr Chair pro­fes­sor at re­itaku uni­ver­sity, ja­pan. he can be e-mailed at ra­jaram.panda@gmail.com.

Pool photo

Turn­ing points: US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo at a meet­ing with Kim Jong Un’s right-hand man, Kim Yong Chol, in Py­ongyang on July 7.

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