While South Korea has every reason to be cheerful about the upcoming summit of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam, hoping for a peaceful nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but with North Korean not doing enough to move towards denuclearisation, the hope appears to be impractical.
Despite doing all the hard work for getting them together at Singapore for the first summit, South Korea would have realised, by now, that nothing worthwhile progressed beyond optics of a successful breakthrough.
President Trump in a speech, earlier this month, had announced the summit with the hope that North Korea would comply with the Singapore understanding by North Korea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier reiterated that sanctions will remain until Pyongyang carries out the complete verifiable denuclearisation commitments made in Singapore.
The US is unlikely to settle down unless the threat to its mainland is eliminated. President Trump is also carrying the baggage of promise to do something, which his predecessors could not do with North Korea; hence with full awareness of reality, he may not pitch high hopes but will have face-saving negotiations with North Korea.
North Korea, on the other hand, had been pursuing a "byungjin" policy of simultaneously developing its nuclear capabilities alongside the economy. With seemingly impractical promises made by North Korea in Singapore to get immediate relief from tough US sanctions, it stands disappointed as it’s smart move did not work. In November 2018, it warned the US that it will seriously consider returning to its erstwhile state policy of building nuclear weapons if the US does not withdraw economic sanctions against it.
North Korea is unlikely to give away its only strategic leverage after witnessing the fate of Iraq, Libya and recently Iraq. Kim's acts can be seen as 'nuclear blackmailing', but it is a feather in the cap of Kim which makes him taller in domestic as well as the global arena. UN reports also indicate that no worthwhile denuclearisation has happened in North Korea.
Expectations of other key players
South Korea will be genuinely looking for peace. Besides the nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, it suits South Korea to have an economically prosperous North Korea.
South Korea's gesture to recommence rail and road transportation between North and South Korea reflects its desire for better relations. China may not necessarily be too happy with Korean bonhomie and if the US obliges (although chances are remote) a US aligned peaceful Korean Peninsula.
China will never like the buffer between its mainland and US Forces in South Korea to go away and Kim to be stripped off all nukes.
China, however, made a smart move by unilaterally commencing logistics support and trade with North Korea.
Japan will continue to be sceptical of North Korea with the threat it poses to it. The Russian concerns will be no different than Chinese regarding the development of THAAD. For any lasting solution China, Japan and Russia will have to be taken on board as the issue has crossed the limit of being a bilateral issue.
Will the summit succeed?
In diplomatic circles, no summit ever fails because minimum it can achieve is to develop better understanding and plan for further negotiations.
Having lost majority in Senate, President Trump will have to address the foreign policy issues to convince his voters for next Presidential elections that he tried his best.
US Defense Intelligence Agency report suggests that Iran and North Korea pose an increasing challenge to the US in space as both countries have developed jamming capabilities, which can also add to the agenda of the upcoming summit.
As a strategic analyst, I do not expect anything concrete coming out of the summit which can amuse the affected parties or the global community, except diplomatic niceties to lower temperatures, but both parties will claim it to be a success.
The fact that President Trump is meeting Kim Jong-un again means that 'nuclear blackmailing' works.
Expectations notwithstanding, it will be a summit which shows the priority of Trump administration, and perhaps the US also wants to give some signal to China by holding the summit in Chinese backyard with one of its closest allies.
The summit is being held at a time when the duration of truce in the trade war between the US and China is shrinking.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)