East Asian nations tout summit’s progress.
seoul — South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, heralded the Singapore summit as a success that has established a path for peace, expressing gratitude to President Trump on Tuesday even after a surprise announcement that the U.S. military will suspend some military exercises with South Korea seen as a threat by the North.
In a statement released by his office, Moon praised the summit as a “great victory achieved by both the United States and the two Koreas.”
“I would like to pay my respect to President Trump, who achieved a feat that no one else has ever delivered,” he said. “Chairman Kim Jong Un will also be remembered as a leader who made a historic moment by taking the first bold step toward the world.”
His statement, however, was quick to raise the potential difficulties of the road ahead, reflecting Moon’s view that the summit was but the first step in a yearslong process to stabilize and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Moon has been a cautious but determined broker of peace between the two Koreas, playing a crucial role in keeping contacts alive with North Korea after Trump abruptly canceled the summit late last month.
But his government was surprised by Trump’s announcement after the summit that the United States would be suspending military exercises with South Korea, without specifying which of the drills and when that might happen. His government was not informed of the decision before the announcement, and the two leaders spoke over the phone only after the summit.
Elsewhere in East Asia, the public response to the summit was cautious but generally positive.
In Japan, which had hoped that North Korea would commit to reopening the issue of abducted Japanese citizens, there was relief that Trump said he had at least raised the issue with Kim.
China issued a hedged statement about the possibility of relaxing sanctions on North Korea — but saw its preferred approach to U.S.-North Korean relations spelled out virtually intact in the Trump-Kim statement.
Beijing got everything it wanted, Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, wrote in an email. By halting military exercises with South Korea, Trump “removed a major irritant for Beijing,” he wrote.
“I expect Beijing sees itself as a big winner coming out of today’s summit,” he continued. “But I also suspect that some in China are nervous about the United States and North Korea getting too close. I expect Beijing to accelerate its engagement of North Korea, with high-level political meetings and even economic assistance and infrastructure development. China will make sure that it retains significant leverage and cannot be bypassed or ignored.”
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing would consider easing sanctions but only if Pyongyang meets conditions laid out in U.N. resolutions.
“China has consistently held that sanctions are not the goal in themselves. The Security Council’s actions should support and conform to the efforts of current diplomatic talks toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and promote a political solution,” spokesman Geng Zhuang said.
Lu Chao, a Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in Shenyang, said the statement in Singapore reflected China’s demands and goals.
“It’s historic progress, and we can believe that the peninsula has begun to start toward peace,” he said.
But North Korea’s other neighbor in the Pacific, Japan, was left without what it wanted most from the summit — a clear declaration that North Korea would reopen talks over the abductions of Japanese citizens decades ago.
Nonetheless, Japanese leaders appeared satisfied with what they got: Trump’s public promise that he raised the issue with Kim and that the North was “working on that.”
Even the vague comment by Trump saved Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a major political embarrassment after he lobbied Trump to champion the issue.
“I highly value the fact President Trump mentioned things that I had told him the other day,” Abe told reporters. “I’d like to thank President Trump that he raised the abduction issue clearly.”
For Japan, the abductions remain a major obstacle to joining the United States and South Korea in the growing engagement with the North.
The fact that the abduction issue was not included in the Trump-Kim statement could put political pressure on Abe.
Yoshimasa Suenobu, a professor at Tokai University, said he did not believe that Abe expected the abduction issue to be part of any declaration.
“I think it’s good enough that President Trump kept his word and mentioned it,” Suenobu added. “So the outcome wasn’t the greatest, but Trump did the least he could do.”
North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 people from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s to train as spies. Pyongyang allowed five of the abductees to return to Japan with their families in 2002, but it insists that the eight others died. Japan suspects that hundreds more may have been taken captive.
Trump told reporters that he “absolutely” raised the issue. But he gave no indications of Kim’s response or what actions the North might take.
“They are going to be working on that. We didn’t put it down in the document, but it’s going to be worked on,” Trump said in the news conference after the summit.
Last week in Washington, Abe asked Trump to add the abduction issue to the Singapore agenda, and on Saturday in Canada he called for direct talks with North Korea.
Sakie Yokota, mother of abductee Megumi Yokota, told broadcaster NHK that she thought a “miraculous thing happened” in Singapore to possibly revive the abduction issue with North Korea.
“It’s historic progress, and we can believe that the peninsula has begun to start toward peace.” Lu Chao, Korea expert at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in China