Will There Be Another Trump-Kim Summit?

The Trump administration has recently been flirting with another U.S.-North Korean summit - both President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un first met in Singapore in 2018 to address denuclearization; the talks stalled following a 2019 summit in Vietnam.  As reported by The American Conservative, multiple White House aides have confirmed President Trump is now considering new proposals to achieve what he hopes would be a “breakthrough” in what are now long-dormant talks with North Korea. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has called for another Trump-Kim meeting ahead of the election in November, acknowledged Thursday that U.S. and South Korean relations with North Korea were still like “walking on ice” after two years of high-stakes summitry. But according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the likelihood of another Trump-Kim summit is low unless there is going to be real progress made.

“The North Koreans have given mixed signals, but the truth is President Trump only wants to engage in a summit if we believe there’s a sufficient likelihood that we can make real progress in achieving the outcomes that were set forth in Singapore,” Pompeo said referring to the first Trump-Kim summit in June 2018.

In June of last year, President Trump crossed the inter-Korean border alone to the village of Panmunjom (the demilitarized zone on the border between the two Koreas), at the invitation of North Korean dictator.  Trump became the first U.S. president to do so as both leaders shook hands in North Korea. 

Unfortunately, that encounter, like the two previous ones, was perceived by critics as a photo-op, since the U.S. has yet to get the North Koreans to agree to denuclearize the peninsula.  And so would it be once more if the two meet this fall, since the Kim regime will never agree to abolish all of its nuclear weapons as the U.S. wants -- an arms control agreement would be more realistic.

There is, however, another factor that the Trump administration has not touched upon, and it does not seem as if it will.  It is the issue of human rights.

Isolated from the rest of the world, North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family for three generations; its citizens are required to show complete devotion to the family and its current leader, Kim Jong-un.  The country remains one of the most representative dictatorial states in the world.  In his seventh year in power, Kim continues to exercise near-total political control as his  government restricts all civil and political liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion.  It also prohibits any organized political opposition, independent media, civil society, and trade unions.  Regrettably, as Dr. William Jeynes of California State University at Long Beach stated: “As much as one would like to think altruism is the rule, one reason it is valued as much as it is and extolled by those who preach about its merits, is because it is generally the exception and not the rule.”

The Pyongyang government routinely resorts to arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions of political dissidents in order to maintain fear and control over the population -- just this past week North Korea denounced Britain on Saturday for announcing sanctions against two organizations that the British government has said are involved in forced labor, torture. and murder in North Korean prison camps. 

Kim’s dictatorship continues to fail to protect or promote the rights of numerous at-risk groups, including women, children, and people with disabilities.  North Korea is also said to be the largest open prison camp in the world -- according to a U.S. State Department report, there are between 80,000 and 120,000 people in prison camps.

Another Trump-Kim summit, unless human rights are brought into the picture, would resemble the encounter between President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong, when the former travelled to the People’s Republic of China in 1972 -- the first U.S. president to visit China since Chinese-American relations were cut off in 1949.  After that historic meeting, the U.S. abandoned the position of the two Chinas -- that of Beijing and Taiwan -- favoring the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations, trade, and an alliance against the Soviet Union. 

Despite these results, many in the West hoped that the CCP would recognize and promote human rights for its people.  In retrospect, it provided the Party with the necessary means to create an economic empire and systematically infiltrate most of the world -- there is no need to enter into detail why Beijing is considered today an international thug.  The same, I fear, would occur if the Trump administration does not address Pyongyang’s human rights violations.

Yes, it would be great if Trump can get Kim to agree and commit to an arms-control deal, in addition to ending the war between both North Korea and the U.S. -- officially both states are still at war since they only agreed to an  armistice  in 1953.  For the time being, as reported by Senior Director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest Harry J. Kazianis, the White House is to offer a “customized package of sanctions relief” in exchange for a reciprocal package that includes the dismantlement of one or more key nuclear production facilities as well as a formal nuclear and missile testing moratorium pledge.

It is true that Trump has forged a relationship with North Korea, unlike any of his predecessors.   And if he can at least bring the war to an official end, it would certainly give him the credibility of being a peacemaker.  Yet thus far, outside the appeasement of having some remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War returned to the U.S., Trump appears to have come out empty-handed.

Kim, with the support of Communist China, has shown no intention halt his human rights violations -- his only intentions are to maintain nuclear power increase his financial profit.  To denuclearize and “submit” to the U.S. desires will make him lose the international leverage he got during the summits with Trump.  Kim also knows that for the moment he has upper hand since he will continue to rule -- unless if he dies (by natural or unnatural causes) -- after the presidential election in November, regardless who wins. 

At the same time, Kim knows that he will unlikely have the success he has had if Joe Biden gets elected. Many Democrats, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Biden, have been highly critical of Trump for reaching out to the North Korean dictator.  Just before the 2019 Hanoi summit, North Korea accused Democrats of undermining the meeting by “chilling the atmosphere” before the important gathering commenced. 

Would this be enough to get Kim back to the negotiating table?   Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, said she does not expect another summit with the United States this year, insisting that such a meeting would be “unpractical” for the North, but she also said, “you never know.” 

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