Source: Global Times Published: 2019-6-30
The third meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took place on Sunday in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom, which divides North and South Korea, with experts saying the historic event shows China's mediation has successfully encouraged the two sides to build an amicable relationship.
The unprecedented handshake on the north side of the demarcation line makes Trump the first sitting US President to enter North Korea. The historic event has reduced pessimistic voices on North Korea-US negotiation after the Hanoi summit in February ended without reaching any agreement, observers noted.
Trump, sitting next to Kim, told reporters at the short press conference that he was "proud to step over the line" into North Korea, and he thanked Kim for meeting him. "When I put out the social media notification, if he didn't show up, the press was going to make me look very bad," Trump said.
In remarks to press before closing the doors for the meeting with Trump, Kim said he was "very surprised" by Trump's open invitation on Twitter, adding, "I had wanted to meet him again."
Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times that whether this is a show for Trump to boost his domestic approval rate prior to next year's presidential election or a well-planned diplomatic activity, the meeting will surely generate dividends to find a political solution to the Korean Peninsula issue.
"After the two sides failed to reach a deal in Hanoi in February, the world was worried whether there would be a return to military tension, but after the meeting in the DMZ, those worries are sure to fade," according to Zhang.
Diao Daming, an assistant professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Sunday that Trump will do anything to serve his goal of re-election next year.
An improvement in the US-North Korea relationship is almost the only diplomatic achievement that he can present to US voters and be welcomed by the international community as well, said Diao.
He noted that's why Trump will keep doing similar things to attract media focus and keep US-North Korea ties stable.
The Trump administration now desperately needs big news to distract media focus from its unsuccessful diplomatic forays in other areas, including the crisis in the Gulf with Iran and a protracted trade war with China.
Meeting with Kim is a sure-fire way to gain plaudits for Trump, without having to show concrete results, analysts pointed out.
Ten days before the Kim-Trump meeting, President Xi Jinping made a historic visit to North Korea, with one of the key aims being to show political support and help North Korea and the US to break the deadlock in their negotiations, Zheng said.
Xi also met Trump in Osaka on the sidelines of the G20 Summit on Saturday, when they also discussed the peninsula issue. Xi has encouraged both Kim and Trump to push forward negotiations and reach an agreement eventually.
Zheng said the third Kim-Trump meeting proves that China's mediation and encouragement are effective, and at least the friendly atmosphere of the region has been rebuilt successfully.
"Without China's encouragement, Trump might not be so confident to propose such a meeting at the DMZ so soon, since he would not have been sure what Kim was thinking," according to Zheng.
Resumption in negotiations
Negotiators from the two countries will meet in the next weeks to resume discussions about North Korea's nuclear program, Trump told reporters, saying he was "not looking for speed [but] looking to get it right," the BBC reported.
Sanctions on North Korea, Trump noted, would remain in place though he appeared to leave open the possibility of easing them as part of the talks. Trump also said he had invited Kim to visit Washington, when the time was right.
It is hard to say whether the meeting was just a show or a really constructive step in the denuclearization and peace process, because Trump's policymaking now is driven by the goal of re-election, Chinese observers noted.
"A political show with no concrete result expected is a cheap and easy way to get media focus, so he'd love to do it, but making adjustments to the US' conditions on North Korea, such as easing sanctions, is risky," Diao said.
US voters have little trust in North Korea, so any policy adjustment might be seen as a compromise to Pyongyang, Diao noted.
If public opinion in the US shows that voters want to see more progress and would accept easing sanctions, Trump would probably show more sincerity, Diao said.
Zheng pointed out to the Global Times that even though Trump does not want to be seen making clear compromises, which would give his domestic rivals opportunities to criticize him, he would let South Korea to do more in humanitarian assistance and people-to-people exchanges with North Korea, as a positive response to Kim.
Trump said talks with North Korea would resume, and the US team would be led by US special representative for North Korea Steve Biegun, CNN reported.
This shows that after North Korea expressed anger over US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and demanded the US remove him from the nuclear talks after the unsuccessful Hanoi summit, the Trump administration has made a decision and given a positive response to North Korea, Zheng said.
Hawkish diplomats like Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton are given a smaller role now since Trump has found these senior officials could make negotiations with North Korea very difficult, Diao noted.
"If Trump gives special authorization to Biegun and allows him report to the Oval Office directly, he can minimize the negative impact from hawkish politicians like Pompeo. Fortunately, it seems like Biegun is an acceptable figure for North Korea," Diao said.
Diao Daming is a research fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.