How they see us: Taking baby steps toward Korean peace
We have entered “a new era,” said The Hankyoreh (South Korea) in an editorial. Who would have thought we’d ever see an American president chatting and smiling with a North Korean leader? This week’s Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was a “sign of world-historical progress toward clearing away the last remnant of the Korean War.” The two men signed a joint declaration “promising to carry out the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to establish a new bilateral relationship.” That achievement alone makes the summit a success. Was it everything we wanted? No, but it’s a start. Next should come “follow-up meetings” so we can all “reach an understanding about real progress.”
These are the same incremental measures that North Korea has always agreed to, said the JoongAng Ilbo (South Korea). In 1994 and again in 2005, the regime promised Washington and Seoul that it would dismantle its nuclear program bit by bit in exchange for sanctions relief and perks, and both times it broke its word. The point of this summit was to get Kim to agree to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of his nuclear programs. That key phrase even has its own acronym in arms-control jargon, CVID, because each of the four words is equally important. But the agreement signed by Trump and Kim says merely that the North will “work toward” complete denuclearization. Worse, at a press conference after the summit, Trump shocked South Korea by unilaterally declaring an end to U.S.–South Korean military exercises, which are crucial for our nation’s security.
“This is the worst outcome for South Korea,” said the Chosun Ilbo (South Korea). Instead of an agreement with a date by which North Korea’s nuclear program must be completely—and verifiably—destroyed, the summit ended with a vaguely phrased one-page document that “achieves nothing.” It wasn’t just that Trump gave Kim the spectacle he so desperately craved by meeting him in person, letting a dictator who starves and massacres his people appear equal to the leader of the world’s only superpower. More concretely, Trump effectively recognized the North as a nuclear power while robbing the South of its main deterrent, the joint military drills. Kim still has his nuclear bombs, his arsenal of chemical weapons, and a 1 million–strong army sitting just across the border from our democracy. The tyrant got “everything he wanted.”
Let’s not focus on winners and losers, said the Global Times (China). Sure, North Korea and China are happy that the U.S.–South Korean drills will end, but look at what else has been achieved: “Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have never been lower.” Of course it is “impossible for North Korea to completely comply with the U.S. request of denuclearization,” but the two sides will continue to talk. And talking is better than shooting.