By Wang Peng Source: Global Times Published: 2019-3-5
The high-profile summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump ended without an agreement in Hanoi, Vietnam. Some observers believe that South Korea has been the biggest loser as the Hanoi summit fell apart. In their opinion, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had been eyeing major diplomatic achievements from the summit. But the Moon administration, observers say, was disappointed.
It is undeniable that in the past year, South Korea did a lot to improve relations with North Korea and to bring Washington and Pyongyang closer. Seoul was optimistic before the second Kim-Trump summit. It had hoped that the two countries would sign a declaration to end the war on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul also expected the international community to lift sanctions on North Korea and South Korea could play a dominant role in building a new system of economic development and mutual prosperity on the Peninsula.
South Korea was all ready to start constructive measures on the Peninsula after the summit. For example, the Moon government has started discussions to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex and to rebuild railways and roads that link the two Koreas.
Considering South Korea's expectations from the Hanoi summit, many people would regard the country as the biggest loser. It was also conjectured that Seoul's efforts would go down the drain if the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue wasn't resolved. Those who thought so ignored basic facts and fundamental rules of international relations.
First, the standoff on the Peninsula has been in place for a long time. It is hardly possible to resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue at one go. It would be unrealistic to expect that a single summit would lead to an end-of-war declaration, making Pyongyang abandon all its nuclear and missile programs and Washington lift all the sanctions.
As for those who believe Seoul is the biggest loser, they deny South Korea and other countries' efforts just because of one setback. These people don't understand the complexity of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
Second, people who regard South Korea as the biggest loser have also adopted a zero-sum mind-set. They don't understand that lasting peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula concern the common security interests of entire Northeast Asia. Maintaining peace and undertaking denuclearization are the two goals, and it will be a threat to all parties if one of them fails. Peace built on the basis of denuclearization is sustainable and acceptable to all parties. Opportunism will not help resolve problems.
When facing the common goal, all parties share long-term interests. It is not a zero-sum game in which one party's success will lead to the other's failure. If South Korea is the so-called biggest loser, who is the winner?
Last but not least, the Hanoi summit is a success considering that the momentum to promote denuclearization did not lose steam. The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is a protracted one, and Washington and Pyongyang have been hostile to each other for a long time. The second Kim-Trump summit was supposed to improve the two countries' mutual understanding after the Singapore summit in 2018. Meanwhile, the summit was expected to help North Korea have more strategic interactions with the international community. In this sense, the summit has helped the two better understand each other and it has also laid a solid foundation for the next summit and new agreements in the future.
After the Hanoi summit, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that "no deal is better than a bad deal." His words do make sense. The two countries still have huge differences and lack trust. Hastily signing an agreement or completely giving up all efforts is not prudent.
On the day the Hanoi summit ended, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil-song visited China and exchanged views on Beijing and Pyongyang's mutual concerns. Besides, Moon is reportedly set to visit the US in March or April. These are helpful moves that will steadily contribute to resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
The author is an associate research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.