Unwilling Bystander: Japan Befuddled Strategically in 2018
Compared to “shocks” in 1971-72 and 1987-89, when US policy shifted abruptly toward first China and then the Soviet Union, the shock of 2018 from the US shift toward North Korea is proving even more unsettling. It is seen as leaving Japan at greater risk, more seriously putting the alliance in jeopardy, and raising more profound alarm about the geopolitical logic behind the move. In the earlier shocks Japan soon fell in line and found reassurance, despite flailing about for a time in search of more diplomatic autonomy. The response to the new shock is still uncertain. Prime Minister Abe has tried, to no avail, aligning himself as the foreign leader with the closest ties to President Donald Trump. He has sought to open his own diplomatic track to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but Kim’s stonewalling on the abductee issue so critical to Abe has torpedoed that effort. Abe seems to be hedging his bets by pursuing better relations with Xi Jinping including back-and-forth summits in 2018 and 2019, while continuing to pursue Vladimir Putin in spite of the hardening Russian position on the territorial issue, which is also Abe’s fervent interest. Abe and his supporters are reluctant to acknowledge the depth of the problem, insisting that North Korea will have to make a deal in order to get access to funds in lieu of reparations. Progressive media have called for a major adjustment in foreign policy to rely less on the United States, while accepting the prospect of a new framework for Northeast Asia. The debate inside Japan kept intensifying through June, which merits our closest attention.
At no point since 1945 has Japan’s path forward appeared so murky. The Trump administration has left Abe at his wit’s end, changing course abruptly on North Korea, proceeding with China in highly unpredictable ways with profound potential damage to Japan’s economy, and showing scant respect for even the appearance of close coordination with and consideration for a long-valued ally. Thus, Japan’s problems reach far beyond its exclusion to self-doubt about its standing as a major player and a great power. If through early May Japan could fall back on its standard illusions—Trump values Abe as his special partner, Abe is about to make progress with Putin, and ties to Asian countries (in this case China and South Korea with the CJK summit at last going forward in Tokyo) are improving—the level of anxiety kept climbing through June, alarming the conservative camp and emboldening the progressives.
Japanese are prone to view North Korea in a regional geopolitical context. In the June Toa Miyagi Taizo reviews new information on Nakasone Yasuhiro’s Asian strategy as discussed with Hu Yaobang in late 1986. Nakasone sought to facilitate normalization between China and South Korea, then to normalize Japan-North Korea ties, and finally to contain the Soviet Union as its ties to North Korea frayed. Hu, however, denied that China had such leverage over the North. Now Japan again faces flux in the regional security environment with North Korea in question, as it hopes to use its economic clout after normalization to forge a positive outcome for itself. That article leaves aside if China in the 1980s had a different outcome in mind for the North and if it now is no less likely to accede to Japan’s strategic reasoning for the Northeast Asia region.
In this article, I draw on Japanese newspaper and journal articles from March through June as the Trump administration’s stance on North Korea was evolving from pessimism punctuated by demands for maximum pressure to optimism based on hopes for personal diplomacy. Related coverage in the media of Japanese thinking on South Korea, China, and Russia associated with the North Korean issue can be found in Country Report: Japan in issues 2 and 3 of 2018. Here the aim is to capture the trends in discourse on the North as well as some principal divergences.
March-April 2018: Waiting for the Moon-Kim Summit
From the outset, skepticism prevailed with headlines such as “there is nothing concrete from the North on denuclearization” (Yomiuri, March 7) and “a staged approach with sanctions relief lies ahead” (Yomiuri, March 11), for which Japanese held scant hope of denuclearization. The clear message was hold tight to sanctions until substantial concrete results are seen amid concern that this would not be the case, as articles pointed to intensified criticism of Japan by North Korea in a strategy to split the triangular resistance (Yomiuri, March 22). It was understood that Kim had reached a desired point in nuclear and missile development and sought to turn to the North’s failing economy. He was not acting out of desperation but in order to weaken sanctions and get economic assistance without needing to abandon his military achievement, which Japan had to oppose (Sankei, March 23). For this a breakthrough in ties with China was necessary, seen in Kim’s trip to Beijing (Yomiuri, March 28), interpreted by some as just to secure backing for the Kim-Trump summit (Asahi, March 28), by others as a means to align North Korea and China in six-party maneuvering (Tokyo Shimbun, March 29) or to restore the order of China regaining a hold over its wayward ally (Yomiuri, March 29) including taking military action on its behalf if US action is initiated (Sankei, April 1), but widely viewed as a “honeymoon” likely to make genuine denuclearization contingent on (and delayed to the point of impossibility) a far-reaching upheaval in the regional order favorable to North Korea and China—but definitely not Japan.
While Abe was redoubling efforts to have Japan’s position conveyed by Trump, progressives were calling for more autonomous and energetic diplomacy. Tokyo Shimbun editorialized on March 29 that Kim’s visit to China further showed that Japan’s presence in dealing with the peninsula was weakened, and it must adopt a forward-looking approach to regional peace.
In China repeated coverage appeared of the Korean War assistance to North Korea (Sankei, April 12). US proposals for speedy denuclearization in return for recognition and so on were seen as implausible. Chinese sought another sort of “compromise,” more comprehensive, a warning to Japan that Trump’s deal-making might focus on interests other than its own and that a drawn-out process would give China a powerful say and give the North the backing to demand a lot, including assistance in lieu of reparations from Japan, without actual, full denuclearization.
An article in Sankei on April 11 by Artem Lukin captured such thinking well: China’s support makes it difficult for US maximum pressure to work again, after it had begun to impact the North. By the start of 2018, having already drawn close to military buildup goals, Pyongyang was turning to diplomacy, which could work for it in pursuit of economic goals. There is room for some concessions on nuclear weapons and missiles as Russia’s 2017 roadmap is followed with a dual freeze then direct dialogue and eventually diplomacy with six parties aimed in part at reducing the US troop presence, although China might ignore Russia and try to proceed with four parties. Alarm about China gaining control of the diplomatic process was widely apparent. Yet, Russia supported the same basic roadmap and also was emboldened to act against Washington.
Abe met with Trump on April 17-18, as conservative sources emphasized that a close alliance is the best way to deal with North Korea (Sankei, April 17). There was still hope that Abe would be able to achieve his diplomatic goals: the strongest alliance ever with Washington, improved ties with China including normal summit exchanges, and a breakthrough with Russia (Yomiuri, April 3). Yet, after seeing his 2015 deal with South Korea disavowed, with little to show from his 20-plus meetings with Putin, and with only limited hopes with China, Abe needed Trump more than ever in light of the centrality of North Korea. Instead, his April summit was overshadowed by headlines on trade tensions with Trump (Yomiuri, April 19; Asahi, April 20), and by images of Japan-passing rather than coordination on the North, with talk of different strategic interests as well as Trump’s unilateralism (Sankei, April 20). Abe was still calling for maximum pressure, while Trump had turned to dialogue with little chance of reversal given his focus on mid-term elections. Asahi (April 20) editorialized that the gaps in the alliance were so great that Japan had to reassess its Northeast Asian diplomacy to not rely solely on the United States. It was isolated with no chance for Abe to talk to Xi, no frankness in talks with Moon, and a new sense of distance from Trump due to trade tensions and clashing goals with North Korea.
Nishihara Masashi in the Seiron column of Sankei on April 17 pointed to the conditional nature of North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize, noting earlier deception in its promises and China’s likely encouragement to add conditions once US-North Korea talks begin, aimed at the removal of US troops from the peninsula, as Kim seeks Chinese relief from sanctions and its large-scale economic assistance. He warned that China is restoring its influence and will relax sanctions, and if South Korea agrees to the United States having a lesser say on the peninsula, this will endanger Japan’s security, On April 16 Yomiuri traced Sino-North Korean ties in 2018, arguing that relations changed only in late March, after China witnessed Kim’s shift toward Seoul and Washington. On April 22 Yomiuri editorialized that sanctions must be kept, given the fact that North Korea has not made a clear commitment to denuclearize. On April 25 Asahi pinpointed China’s concern with Kim’s decision not to ask for removal of US forces and to accept continued US-ROK military exercises, implying that at a time when Kim was seeking assistance China had leverage on these positions. Asahi on April 26 and 28 stated that China was welcoming North Korean labor again (one firm after another facing a labor shortage is welcoming a few hundred North Koreans—mostly women in textiles and marine products from farming areas near Dandong—in this “spring” in Sino-North Korean trade just a half year after China expelled them), and now Japan must start to play an active role. Local Chinese governments benefit, as does North Korea taking a cut from the wages. Asahi also asserted that solving the abduction issue as early as possible is desirable, but Japan cannot remain aloof from this restart in forging regional peace with the possibility that this is a time when the framework of Northeast Asia will change.
The Japanese government for a time in April did not have a consistent message. In Yomiuri on April 24 Abe was seen as taking a forward-looking approach with talks ahead and claims that his visit to Trump signified coordination that made diplomacy with North Korea a success, but half or so of Japanese respondents did not see that visit as successful, while foreign and defense ministers were critical of North Korea, as were the families of the abductees (Asahi, April 28).
Idealism about North Korea was in short supply. The constant refrain from Sankei was that North Korea must not be allowed to break out of its containment. Kato Ryozo urged Japanese diplomacy to keep pressing Trump to pursue complete denuclearization, warning that Japan is unable to count on China, Russia, or perhaps South Korea since this is less of a priority for them (Sankei, April 20). Tokyo Shimbun on April 26 noted that North Korea is tightening domestic control, ordering a purge in advance of the September 9 70th anniversary commemoration. Yet, Kim indicated to Moon that he was prepared to talk to Japan in line with earlier calls in the media for Japan to be flexible and not be excluded from talks on regional security (Asahi, April 30,). From Yomiuri, which had been calling for maximum pressure to continue (April 21, May 2, editorial), progress on the abductees was worth a try.
May 2018: Waiting for the Trump-Kim Summit
There was scant optimism on how talks with North Korea were proceeding, no matter who was meeting with Kim. A wide gulf separated Washington and Pyongyang, and when Abe met with Li Keqiang and Moon, the differences over how to deal with Pyongyang were obvious. Whether on the left, as in Asahi and Tokyo Shimbun on May 10 or on the right, as in Sankei on that day, optimism was scarce. Suspicion prevailed that other states would relax their pressure, wanted to claim success on little basis, and were watering down the demands and timetable for the North. For the CJK summit Abe sought to insert his country in the diplomacy over the North, but language he offered was not welcomed by the other leaders, who pressed Abe to seek a meeting with Kim, not waiting for progress on the abduction issue. Abbreviated as a split between “dialogue” and “pressure,” the dispute was really about rewards without much concern about denuclearization, at least in the short run, versus sanctions without letup until serious steps were taken. Yomiuri on May 10 was the most upbeat, stressing consensus on the goal of denuclearization and inclusion of the abductee issue in the joint communique, hinting that Abe had achieved everything possible on North Korea as well as revival of shuttle summits with South Korea, an exchange of summits with China, and also accelerated talks on the CJK FTA. Sankei stressed that this last step was in opposition to the United States and that China was eager for this and for improved Sino-Japanese ties as the result of worsening relations with the United States and concern over a trade war with it. All sides were positioning themselves versus Washington, as Kim on May 7-8 went again to China to secure its backing in the upcoming talks with Trump, said Tokyo Shimbun (May 9). Abe alone kept to maximum pressure.
Yet, on May 14 Abe expressed a desire for direct talks. On May 9 (Asahi) the South Korean ambassador to Japan called for this dialogue as soon as possible as the best way to avoid Japan passing, adding that there is a very high possibility that this dialogue will succeed, given the desire for economic reconstruction and reduction of dependency on China’s economy. Moon would welcome that since he has made clear that the historical issue should not get in the way of developing future-oriented relations. Talking of dialogue, Abe was shifting ground a little.
In May and June Sankei carried a series of opinions on the Japanese legacy in North Korea, leaving industry and energy for development. A May 26 piece was blunt about North Korea not paying its debts to Japanese companies from the 1980s and the failure of renewed plans for ties by companies in 2002. If talks begin again, Japan should calculate the value of what it left for the North, argues the paper, rejecting unreasonable demands by the North for money. Earlier on May 10 Sankei had editorialized that Japan should tighten its ties to the United States as China is backing North Korea with the aim of weakening US power in the region and do what it can to halt the trend to softer policies toward the North—the gulf in dealing with it is growing. When talks between Washington and Pyongyang falter, as expected, Beijing will offer to play the mediator, warns the editorial, anticipating trouble ahead not desirable for Japan. Actually, Yomiuri picked up this theme too, noting on May 14 that when Kim had met Xi in Dalian on May 7-8 he was reassured about China’s economic assistance as stages were met in denuclearization, in light of China’s strategy to strengthen its influence over the peninsula.
On May 19 Yomiuri reported that China welcomes Kim’s plans for reform and opening, as expressed by a North Korean mid-month delegation to China. In April the North announced under the byungjin rubric that it would prioritize the economy, and many more delegations to China are planned. More than 400 outdoor markets have opened, but the article leaves unclear whether Kim is really ready for reform and openness, given fear of loss of control and inflow of foreign information. China has been reassured about Kim’s talks with Trump, knows that the US side is not prepared to offer economic assistance, and expects its backing for Kim to prevail. As talk spread of intensifying US pressure on China (Yomiuri, May 30, editorial) over the South China Sea as well as trade, the triangular nature of North Korea’s links to the two was obvious.
As reported in Asahi on June 17, when Kim was in Dalian Xi urged him to press Trump on cancelling joint military exercises, which Trump on June 12 agreed to do. This reflects China’s influence over the peninsula and its aim to weaken the US military presence there. Having achieved its goal at the summit, China is focusing on assisting the North’s economic shift. Not ignored in Japanese coverage were transfers at sea from Chinese vessels to North Korean ones in defiance of sanctions. The Japanese government cited one case on May 29, as reported in Sankei the next day, including a picture of the illicit transfer that had taken place on May 19. Yet, from the point of view of progressives (Tokyo Shimbun, May 23) North Korea was splitting alliances, e.g., as Japan stuck to its position of “maintaining pressure,” which Yomiuri on May 24 editorialized is needed, there was greater need to stick together, which is worryingly in doubt. A former Korean unification minister interviewed on May 31 warned against rushing into talks, as if one would be late to catch the bus, and, Indeed, the abduction issue will not advance soon. The media took note of Russia as well as China supporting North Korea’s approach, including stages when sanctions would be relaxed, using its influence against a US-led approach (Asahi, June 1, Tokyo Shimbun, June 2). The diplomatic process was bifurcating, not consolidating to press Kim. Moon was struggling to prioritize his personal relationship with Kim (meeting on May 26 only 29 days after their first summit), but Xi soon outdid him by securing three summits, all clearly on his own turf, with Kim in just three months. Moon and Trump were less united—even less so with Abe included—than were Putin and Xi offering succor to Kim.
June 2018: Responding to the Trump-Kim Summit
Massive coverage in June of this presumably momentous event dwarfed other newspaper writings on foreign policy. Yomiuri stressed the gap in thinking about denuclearization, as the North called for stages and the US side opposed relaxing sanctions in stages. It quoted people calling for maximum pressure to be sustained; warning if not of multiple risks. It raised doubt about the meaning of the supposed destruction of the nuclear test site and editorialized that North Korea has not made the decision to denuclearize. It asserted that China’s anger, as the North’s backer, with Trump is causing Kim’s hard line. Other articles kept the spotlight on the abductions issue, despite no indications of promise. While until late May articles showcased that Tokyo and Washington are on the same wavelength in insistence that pressure would be sustained until complete denuclearization (Yomiuri, May 24) and when Trump appeared to
call off the summit in late May, newspapers were quick to put the blame not only on North Korea but heavily on China for relaxing sanctions, offering promises, and making Kim confident that he could take a harder line with Trump (Tokyo Shimbun, May 26). By the time that Defense Minister Onodera publicly insisted that keeping up pressure is the way to resolve the problem, it was clear that Tokyo was worried about Trump’s intentions (Yomiuri, June 3). That day Yomiuri reported that at Abe’s April summit Trump, supremely confident, told him that he should leave the contents of deal-making to Trump, which has left Japanese concerned that denuclearization would be postponed. Besides, why should Kim strike a deal with a leader who just proved on the Paris climate agreement and Iran agreement that a new US leader is not bound by what his predecessor has done? Trump puts “building trust” first, warned Yomiuri. For Sankei (May 26) the warning had been starker: Do not go along with fake denuclearization.
Car parts were again entering the North, gasoline prices were falling, smuggling was rampant, and Kim could be less concerned about pressure as he strove for the kind of deal China also preferred. Yet, for Asahi (May 24), what mattered was keeping the dialogue process going and inserting Japan in the pursuit of tension relaxation in Asia. Expectations were rising among Japanese progressives as among Chinese businessmen; that day Asahi reported on a real estate boom at both ends of the Sino-North Korean border: in Dandong, where prices for “mansions” built after the construction of a new bridge across the Yalu begun in 2011 were fast rebounding after the ghost town effect in the shadow of sanctions in 2017; and in Hunchun to the north.
One theme expressed about the summit was Japan’s marginality, noting that it was the only related country without a summit with North Korea, and its presence was little indicated. That gave rise to emphasis on the powerful “economic card” Japan can play (Tokyo Shimbun, June 13), the urgency of bilateral talks with the North, not leaving it to other countries to plan the future of security in Northeast Asia, the importance of the abductions issue as a theme for resolving the impasse over North Korea as Japan stands at a crossroads between pressure and dialogue. Yet, while many were looking ahead to talks, Sankei was warning that the outcome of the summit was similar to past failed agreements with North Korea and that pressure remains the key. On June 17 Yomiuri noted that North Korea was refusing to talk about the abductees, insisting that the issue was settled, while Abe asserted that Japan would pay no money to the North in the absence of a resolution to this issue. Abe did say, however, that Japan would pay for IAEA inspectors to work in North Korea. The prospect of direct talks seemed rather distant.
Bringing some clarity to the exchanges over the Trump-Kim summit, Hosoya Yuichi in Yomiuri on June 4 reaffirmed the need for CVID, casting doubt on Trump’s approach and on Japanese impatient to follow suit, as if that could lead to Northeast Asian peace and security. Already Yabunaka Hitoji in Yomiuri on May 30 had urged Japan to join in the process, but he made unrealistic assumptions about what North Korea would do, unlike what really happened at the summit. On June 5 Tokyo Shimbun appealed for Japan to shift, much as Hosoya had warned. On June 8 in Yomiuri Tanaka Hitoshi also called for dropping Japan’s hardline. It fell to US foreign policy experts, whose views were well recorded in Japan at this time, e.g., Armitage, to warn that there was no reason to hurry and that US coordination with allies is paramount (Yomiuri, June 9). Reports appeared of Putin and Xi agreeing on support for Kim (Sankei, June 9). A polarized atmosphere was being muddied by Trump and by progressive Japanese optimism.
While some anticipated a surge in diplomacy in pursuit of denuclearization, others warned of three countries undercutting that process by being too soft on Pyongyang. Sankei (June 13) stressed Seoul’s further tilt toward accommodation, as in its eagerness for a declaration that the war is over, even as Yomiuri (June 13) touted its success as a middleman. Yomiuri (June 12) linked the just concluded SCO meeting to the Trump-Kim summit, viewing the summit as just an opening, political show before serious talks begin in which China and Russia must play a large role. They did not see the summit as a force for more cooperation with Washington, but as one more sign of a flailing US unable to reach positive outcomes: in protectionism, on Iran, and on Syria, while their own influence was strengthening. Sankei (June 13) saw China’s real intent as doing everything to avoid improved US-North Korean ties, to take control through its leverage over sanctions, and to support the North’s security concerns as a way to realize its own, real ambitions in a zero-sum struggle with the United States. An adjacent article viewed Russia as also preparing for a drawn-out process, more fearful of being excluded and more focused on resumption of the Six-Party Talks to transform the region. Sanctions were now in jeopardy. On June 9 Asahi also took note of the Sino-Russian honeymoon style summit, offering joint support for the Trump-Kim summit and for the North with the aim of containing the United States.
A July Chuo Koron article traced how China and Russia are pursuing a new Northeast Asia order, using North Korean diplomacy to reduce the US troop presence and missile defenses, at odds with US and Japanese interests, and using “sharp power” to undermine democracies or spread propaganda for their authoritarian states. They sow chaos, lobbying and funding politicians, and steer discussions away from criticism through Confucian Institutes and other image-building mechanisms and through making foreign elites dependent on China. At first glance, Russia is more aggressive, and China’s means are closer to soft power, the article argues. China supports the global economy, while few countries depend on Russia. This leads Russia to more directly try to undermine western societies. Meanwhile, western societies have lost their optimism about how Russia and China would evolve and about North Korea being absorbed by the South.
Nikkei on June 13 warned that it was early to conclude that a new history is upon us. Little is concrete, stages lie ahead, North Korea’s past record is deceitful, the North is after reduced military pressure and economic assistance, there is fear that three countries will relax the sanctions when strong pressure must be sustained, and Japan must hold its “economic card” back until all of its aims are realized. This was not a rejection of the Trump-Kim summit, but it was a sober assessment of the difficult road ahead. Yomiuri was more hopeful, following Abe’s praise for the summit and hope for talks with Kim, pleased that Trump vindicated Abe’s trip to meet him with an exchange on the abductees that gave Abe a basis to proceed, but it warned against a peace mood and called for even close coordination with Washington to set the right environment for Japanese diplomacy. Mainichi said that many concerns remain, but there should be no turning back from this point, which Japan should boldly seize, given the unease over its security that has been aroused. It editorialized on June 13 that while close ties to Washington and Seoul should not change, now that they have shifted to dialogue, so should Tokyo, not just passively relying on Washington. It should deepen ties to Beijing, Seoul, and Moscow. That day Asahi went further in praising Beijing’s positive, indispensable role. In contrast, Yomiuri on June 15 warned of the push by China and Russia at the Security Council to relax sanctions. Sankei went further on June 20 to argue that the summit played out in accord with China’s script, as it also is moving to make North Korea a satellite through economic ties, reflected in delegations from North Korea studying China’s socialist economic construction. On June 15 it had focused on China’s economic assistance card and its plan to incorporate North Korea into the BRI, a modern-day Chinese-led silk road. As the aftermath of the summit was observed, Tokyo Shimbun on June 20 headlined that the talks are following the North’s pace.
Comparing editorials on the summit, Sankei found considerable overlap mixing despair and concern. The thaw was a plus, but there was doubt about Trump’s negotiating ability and no real result was seen, leaving Japan with nothing for which to be satisfied. Trump had rushed into talks. North Korea had cleverly used his urgency and achieved a great victory, these were widely shared conclusions, according to the June 20 article attempting an overview.
The Trump-Kim summit aroused alarm about US pullback of forces from Korea (Yomiuri, June 18, 21), including an article by Michishita Narushige evaluating the summit, where CVID had been dropped by the US side and nothing concrete on denuclearization was heard. Noting some “minus scenarios,” Michishita wrote that there was insufficient preparation for the summit, the security system for the defense of South Korea had been weakened, US concessions stood out, and the peninsula had shifted toward China in line with its intentions to be the dominant voice.
As Abe showed more interest in meeting with Kim, when Kim had indicated that he is open to it, talk of Japan’s financial assistance to North Korea intensified. Kono Yohei on June 13 spoke of proceeding when clarity was reached on 9-10 suspected abductees and some urged Japan not to stay isolated as diplomacy spread in this turning point for Northeast Asia, but there was also an intense rebuttal in much of the press.
Amid criticism of Trump for cancelling the joint military exercises with South Korea, Tokyo Shimbun on June 20 editorialized in support of the move as a way to build mutual trust. More important than keeping up pressure was establishing a new relationship, it appeared. Unlike progressives, some conservatives faulted Trump for not being tough enough, including on the issues that matter to Japan such as short- and mid-range missiles. As Sato Masaru argued in Sankei on June 17, geopolitical interests diverge, North Korea cleverly exploits this and will break its promises, and Japan should be on its guard and expect little on the abductees. One more viewpoint, expressed by Park Cheol-hee in Tokyo Shimbun on June 17 is that the summit resulted from a sense of danger on the North Korean side from sanctions and on the US side from ICBMs that could make it vulnerable as well as within the region from the threat of some military confrontation, but that does not mean that trust can be built for an agreement.
On June 27 Diamond explained why after the Trump-Kim summit Kim had chosen to cast his country’s lot with China, leaving it no more than a satellite. Only half a month after meeting Trump and striking a deal that the United States would guarantee the North Korean system in return for denuclearization, Kim met with Xi for the third time this spring and made his decision. In Japan and around the world the Singapore summit was seen as a big failure, while this author, despite the dearth of specifics, had seen it as a success. Others feared that North Korea was lying and would take its rewards without proceeding to denuclearize, but the author feels that what matters is that sanctions will remain in place. The US guarantee for the system is dependent on denuclearization, and Trump withheld assistance. How is that a victory for Kim? Another critique is that no process was delineated at the summit. There was no way in one brief meeting to specify a concrete timetable, and that is not the work of national leaders. Right away the US side has turned to seeking a report from the North on its weapons within a few weeks in a meeting to occur between Mike Pompeo and a North Korean official. If it is not delivered, Kim will be exposed as lying. Until that moment, this process stands as a big success, readers are told. Yet, if that is the case, why did Kim go to China on June 19 once again? With Abe and neocon Bolton advising Trump, Kim realizes that he cannot get sanctions lifted or assistance; so he must not consider the Singapore summit a success. Instead, he has headed to China, where he has found real success with unilateral lifting of the sanctions and providing of assistance with clarity that, in this way, China really is working for the security of the regime. After all, it would be naïve to believe Washington’s assurances and statements, as seen in its treatment of Iraq and Libya. Superpower China offers real protection since there would be no US switch to attacking Pyongyang once Beijing had given its guarantee. This is common sense for a small power, but it leaves the North vulnerable to being China’s satellite.
The article proceeds to discuss Kim’s interest in Putin in light of his June 22 summit with Moon, where they pledged cooperation on denuclearization of the peninsula, as Putin completely sided with China’s position. He welcomed Trump’s guarantee of security, as talks resumed between Gazprom and South Korea about a pipeline through North Korea. If this should go forward before denuclearization, it would be bad news for the United States and Japan, since transit fees would work against one of the reasons that the North is considering denuclearization—financial urgency. The danger is that China, Russia, and South Korea will unite against US plans. In 2017 there were two camps in response to the North’s provocations: the pressure camp of the United States and Japan, and the dialogue camp of China and Russia. In March with Trump’s shift the new divide was between the conditional dialogue camp of Japan and the United States of CVID and the staged denuclearization camp with accompanying steps to relax sanctions, espoused by the two Koreas and China and Russia. It would be difficult for Kim to have to denuclearize first; so he went to Xi for economic assistance, and succeeded, getting protection, as he is getting from Putin, too. The article concludes that it is unlikely to be long before Trump decides that Kim deceived him and relations worsen again.