North Korea: Trump cancels summit ... or not

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un

On 24 May, US President Trump announced that he was cancelling his 12 June summit meeting with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea, DPRK) leader Kim Jong-un, just two weeks after he had initially proposed it, and on the day that the DPRK completed the decommissioning of its nuclear test site in front of the world’s press. In a letter to Kim, Trump said that given ‘the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.’ Within 24 hours, however, Trump had tweeted that the administration was having ‘very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit’ and that it could be back on, either on 12 June or a later date. South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim the following day in order to ensure that the DPRK remained committed to the summit. Bob Shepherd reports.

The real reason for Trump’s initial cancellation lay in the refusal of the DPRK to bow to US intimidation. On 15 May, the newly-appointed National Security Advisor, the fascist John Bolton, said that the disarming of North Korea would follow the 2003 ‘Libya model’ and that the aims of US imperialism would be to strip the DPRK of its nuclear capabilities entirely. This was bound to be rejected by the DPRK which would not give up its nuclear capability unilaterally as Libya’s Gaddafi had done. However, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence took this a step further and declared that if the DPRK did not accede to US demands then Kim would suffer Gaddafi’s fate; when it was suggested to Pence that this might be seen as a threat, he replied: ‘Well, I think it is more of a fact.’ The DPRK response was immediate: Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, said that Pence had made ‘unbridled and impudent remarks’, continuing: ‘I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice president’. Trump used this rebuke as an excuse to cancel the summit.

The summit proposal had followed a meeting on 27 April between Kim and the newly-elected Moon. The Panmunjom Declaration that came out of the meeting contained a number of initiatives to build co-operation between the DPRK and South Korea, and, significantly, agreed to a ‘common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.’ The Declaration also committed the states to ‘actively pursue meetings involving the two Koreas, the US and China with a view to declaring an end to the war’. The Korean War halted in 1953 with an armistice; no peace treaty was ever signed, so technically the two Koreas remain at war. As a gesture of good faith, the DPRK released three US prisoners at the beginning of May and began decommissioning its nuclear test site.

These steps followed an extended period of heightened tension between the DPRK and the US/South Korea axis. During 2017, the DPRK undertook a series of nuclear bomb tests culminating with a hydrogen bomb test at the beginning of September. Over the same period, the country launched a series of more and more powerful ballistic missiles, including one with the range to reach the west coast of the US. The response from the US was to orchestrate the imposition of ever-tighter UN sanctions on the DPRK and to apply pressure on China to also implement them. While a US assault on DPRK seemed improbable given that it could result in millions of deaths across the two Koreas, China wanted to see an end to the confrontation. Hence Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Kim to a meeting in Beijing on 27 March 2018 as part of a process to support China’s aim of consolidating its position as the dominant power in the region. This requires a resolution of the conflict between the two Koreas.

While Moon is seemingly committed to the aims of the Panmunjom Declaration, there are forces in South Korea, especially in the military, which have different views. In early May, the US and South Korea held ‘Max Thunder’ joint air drills over a two-week period involving around 100 warplanes. The exercises flew in the face of the Declaration which states that ‘South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all the hostile acts against each other in every domain including land, air and sea, that are the sources of military tension and conflict.’ As The Guardian pointed out:

‘For North Korea, the presence of bombers in joint US-South Korea drills triggers painful memories of the 1950-53 Korean war. According to US air force estimates, bombing raids by US B-29s caused more damage to North Korea’s urban centres during that conflict than that seen in Germany or Japan during the second world war.’

In response, the DPRK cancelled high-level talks between officials from the two Koreas scheduled to begin on 16 May, stating that:

‘If the Trump administration approaches the DPRK-US summit with sincerity for improved DPRK-US relations, it will receive a deserved response from us. However, if the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.’

China, as the DPRK’s main trading partner and political ally, is keen for the summit to take place. At a second meeting with Kim on 16 May, Xi said ‘We support the improvement of North-South relations, the promotion of dialogue between North Korea and the US, denuclearisation on the peninsula and North Korea’s development of its economy’. Pak Thae Song, a vice chairman of the Workers Party of the DPRK, said that he had been entrusted with studying China’s model of economic development, which he called ‘reform and opening’ linked with carrying out the Workers Party’s ‘new strategic line of prioritising economic development’. This might include future US investment. Whether the summit will go ahead remains uncertain, but what is clear is that US imperialism is not driving the agenda in the way it wants, and it does not know how to deal with this reality.

Hands off the DPRK!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 264 June/July 2018


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