North Korea far from a done deal

The celebrations about peace and harmony in Korea was a bit premature.

On May 9th, Trump was asked if he thought that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because of his North Korea diplomacy. “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it”.

North and South Korea have been working together despite Trump’s undiplomatic approach, although the US has contributed through the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was trying to set up the May meeting between Trump and Kim Yong Un.

But Kim may have thrown a spanner in the works. Nobel may have to put their considerations on hold.

New Yorker: Just How Fragile Is Trump’s North Korea Diplomacy?

The new diplomacy is still fragile. In a surprise announcement, North Korea indefinitely suspended the second round of talks between senior officials from the two Koreas—due to be held at the D.M.Z. on Wednesday. It blamed joint military exercises between South Korean and U.S. military forces. Pyongyang viewed the operation as “a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea’s state-run Central News Agency reported.

The Trump Administration was totally blindsided by the move, just five days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from his second round of talks with Kim to prepare for the Trump summit. Kim had even told Pompeo that he understood the “need and utility” of continued exercises between two countries with which North Korea is still technically at war, the State Department told reporters. The White House scrambled to clarify and respond.

The impending summit was technically designed to discuss “denuclearization”—a term first used, in 1992, to get around talk of “disarmament,” which North Korea feared would make it sound more vulnerable in a volatile neighborhood. Over the weekend, however, the Trump Administration declared that more than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal will be negotiated in Singapore.

“Denuclearization is absolutely at the core of it, and it means not just the nuclear weapons,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, told ABC on Sunday. “North Korea’s previously agreed, several times, in fact, to give up its uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing capabilities. We’ve got the ballistic-missile issues on the table. We’ve got to look at chemical and biological weapons.”

After their meeting last week, Pompeo said that Kim fully understood that the U.S. goal is complete denuclearization. In public, however, North Korea has been ambiguous, at best.

South Koreans know that the Singapore summit is the riskiest U.S. initiative ever undertaken.

And premature celebrations and accolades added to the risks.

In Seoul and along the D.M.Z., South Koreans—both supporters and skeptics of the new diplomacy—told me that they don’t care much about Trump’s motive, as long as it refocusses his energies through the rest of his Presidency. Just six months ago, inflammatory rhetoric threatened to end a truce that has been in place since 1953.

The noisy belligerence produced drastic predictions of a conflagration far costlier than the first Korean War. It could easily produce a quarter-million deaths in Seoul—a city of ten million people just ninety minutes from the D.M.Z.—and a million casualties in all of South Korea, military experts told me. North Korea would almost certainly be harder hit.

The risks of it all turning to custard must still be high, especially if the US pushes too hard and keeps making tough talk public statements.

Another complication is the US walking out of the Iran deal. North Korea would be justified in being sceptical of the strength of any deal with the US – and with Trump, who has dumped on other US deals as well, like the TPPA and NAFTA.

For now, all’s quiet on the northern front. My first stop near the D.M.Z. was an amusement park at the edge of the restricted area that offered kiddie rides. A small shopping mall had a Popeyes and a Sam’s Bagels as well as Korean food outlets. South Korean families were out enjoying the spring sunshine and the tentative peace. At souvenir shops, I bought kitsch D.M.Z. T-shirts and framed pieces of barbed wire cut from the frontier, reminiscent of scraps once sold of the Berlin Wall.

One of my final stops was at the observation post near Paju, where some of the fiercest battles of the Korean War raged. I peered through big binoculars, grounded on posts, at spooky Peace Village, on the other side of the D.M.Z. It’s often referred to as Propaganda Village. It appeared modern, with concrete apartment blocks and buildings and roads. But it is reportedly a shell that provides an illusion of life—largely motionless, like the nearby statue of the country’s first leader.

The sign atop the observation post declared “End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.”

As I left, I thought how it will take big and bold and tangible diplomacy by the American and Korean leaders—a lot more than turning off the propaganda loudspeakers or blowing up a tunnel of doubtful use—to really insure that the D.M.Z. is permanently silent.

It may also take a rethink of Trump/US diplomacy, or lack thereof.

As well as a rethink of what may be worth of a Nobel Peace prize.

 

Will Trump help or hinder Korean peace deal?

The North and South Korean leaders have had an historic meeting, and the prospects of an official peace agreement and de-nuclearisation looking promising.

US President Donald Trump has been typically brash and bold in public statements, ahead of a planned meeting with Kim Yong-un next month. Will he help or hinder game changing agreements in Korea? Who knows?

While the situation looks markedly improved remember that Trump played a prominent and provocative role in recent escalations, raising risks substantially. One bad decision could have had horrendous results – Trump threatened to destroy North Korea.

RNZ (ABC): Trump factor could hinder not help Korean deal

The two sides will work towards signing a peace treaty formally ending the Korean war, sixty five years after the armistice was signed.

Both Koreas will work towards the denuclearisation of the peninsula.

The tone and language spoke of, “one nation, one language, one blood”.

“We can make a better future with our hands together,” Kim Jong-un said.

This could be the turning point where North Korea sees a new future beyond just the military – a future where the shattered economy could take precedence over the production and testing of ever greater means of mass murder.

Or it could be more of the same. A shonky regime buying time to further perfect its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The never shy Donald Trump has claimed credit for getting the North and South together, citing the pressure exerted by his sanctions, his military, and his strategic genius.

But now it’s his turn to make good his self-described talent as the greatest of dealmakers.

Now Mr Trump and Mr Kim will have to size one another up, test the handshake, rattle and roll the alpha cage and see who comes out on top – and who is the loser.

For Mr Trump the salesman’s view of winners and losers could have dangerous consequences.

Both men need to walk away from their talks due in the next six weeks or so able to claim a victory. Humiliation will not work for either party.

They have both tried reciprocal public humiliation, but the tone has changed somewhat, especially in Korea, as it must if a lasting solution is going to be agreed on.

Mr Trump has already warned he would walk out of the talks if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing – and that’s assuming we even get to a face-to-face meeting of such unlike minds.

As with anything Trump it’s bit of a lottery – and it will mostly depend on the resolve of the Korean leaders, either with Trump’s help or despite his involvement.

Will Mr Trump take an America-first view of these talks or look after the interests of South Korea, Japan and even China – and how will any agreement be enforced?

It may come down to whether Trump approaches it as a win for him, or a win for the world. If the Korean situation is successfully defused, with both North and South Korea benefiting without humiliation, then Trump will get some of the credit. There is a risk he will try to get too much for himself.

It is too soon to talk about Nobel prizes, as some have suggested – and if any are eventually dished out over Korea there would have to be joint credit.

Yes, only time will tell, and Trump’s unpredictability and narcissism means that  anything could happen. He may tone down his public bluster and help do an historic deal. The Koreas, China and Japan will be the biggest beneficiaries, and if Trump earns bragging rights then good on him.

Trump may end up hindering, or helping. or both.

Historic meeting in Korea, an end to the war?

For the first time since North and South Korea split into separate countries after the 1950-53 war the leaders of the two countries have met, at the demilitarised zone that separates the two countries.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have said they will formally end the war (which has never been done to date) and will work towards complete de-nuclearisation of both countries.

This is just a step – many meetings have been held over the years (just not between leaders) – but it is a promising step in the right direction. Credit should be given to both leaders for this.

RNZ: North and South Korea announce end of Korean War

The two countries plan to sign a peace treaty, formally ending the Korean War this year, the 65th anniversary of the armistice.

“There will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun,” the statement says.

The two leaders agreed to work for the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

Smiling and holding hands, the leaders met at the heavily fortified demilitarised zone between the countries on Friday, pledging to pursue peace after decades of conflict.

Mr Kim became the first North Korean leader since the 1950-53 Korean War to set foot in South Korea, stepping over a concrete curb marking the border at the truce village of Panmunjom to shake hands with his counterpart.

“We are at a starting line today, where a new history of peace, prosperity and inter-Korean relations is being written,” Mr Kim said before the two Korean leaders and top aides began talks.

Mr Kim told Mr Moon he would be willing to visit the presidential Blue House in Seoul, invited Mr Moon to Pyongyang, and said he wanted to meet “more often” in the future, the official said. Just days before the summit, Mr Kim said North Korea would suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantle its only known nuclear test site.

So a promising move but a lot to happen yet, including a meeting between Kim and Donald Trump planned for next month. Trump may have helped nudge the Korean leaders towards this meeting and pledges, but he is still a loose cannon who could as easily make trouble as make a historic move for the US.

Reuters:  From nuclear weapons to peace: Inside the Korean summit declaration

In the agreement, the two Koreas “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete decentralization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula” and “agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard”.

Such language is similar to past declarations, however, and South Korea offered no additional details beyond saying it would closely cooperate with the United States and the international community on the issue.

Past efforts to entice Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program have failed in part due to North Korean demands the United States withdraw its troops from the peninsula and remove its “nuclear umbrella” of support for the South. South Korea has said Kim may be willing to compromise on this traditional sticking point, but no new details were announced at the summit.

Trump and the US will have to play a part in this.

South Korea and a U.S.-led U.N. force are technically still at war with North Korea and the idea of an official peace deal to change that is not something that can be resolved by the Koreas alone. So the declaration calls for meetings with the United States and possibly China, which were both involved in the conflict.

South Korean leaders at the time opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice, which was officially signed by the commander of North Korea’s army, the American commander of the U.N. Command and the commander of the “Chinese People’s volunteers”, who were not officially claimed by Beijing at the time.

North and South Korea have seriously discussed the idea before. In 1992, the two sides agreed to “endeavor together to transform the present state of armistice into a solid state of peace”.

The last inter-Korean summit in October 2007 concluded with a declaration by the two Koreas to “recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime” and “to work together to advance the matter of having the leaders of the three or four parties directly concerned to convene on the Peninsula and declare an end to the war”.

Again Trump and the US are important to this.

A Reuters analysis shows the five decades of communication between the two Koreas.

North and South Korea are technically still at war, and contact between them was almost nonexistent after they accepted a truce at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Since the early 1960s they have held hundreds of official meetings.

The more frequently the two sides have communicated, the fewer incidents there have been between them. But the number of meetings has yet to recover from a peak of nearly 90 sessions in 1992, the year after the Soviet Union collapsed.

In the past, the volume of communication varied dramatically depending on who was in charge in the South. From the late 1990s to 2007, there was a prolonged period of increased dialogue under policies driven by an approach in the South known as “Sunshine.”

That came to an end in 2008. Now Kim Jong Un is presiding over an accelerated missile programme and has tested a rocket which could reach Alaska. Southern president Moon Jae-in has pledged new efforts to boost dialogue, but sceptical analysts have dubbed his efforts “Moonshine.”

Here’s a look at the history of every discussion, agreement and major incident – from spy submarines to bombs on planes – between the two sides.

Progress will depend on the intent and determination of both leaders, and also of their main allies China and the US.

North Korea may consider nuclear disarmament

Talks between North Korea and South Korea have raised hopes that the North may be willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, but North Korea has faailed to keep promises in the past.

RNZ:  North Korea willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, says South

North Korea is willing to talk about getting rid of its nuclear weapons but only if its own safety can be guaranteed, South Korea says.

The South says the subject was raised when its officials met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Pyongyang on Monday, during a rare visit.

A statement from the South Korea president’s office said: “The North showed willingness on denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula. If military threats to the North Korea decrease and regime safety is guaranteed, the North showed that it has no reason to retain nukes.”

The North’s KCNA news agency said Mr Kim had “warmly welcomed” the delegates and held an “openhearted talk” with them.

During their visit, the South’s officials passed on a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in which he invited Mr Kim to attend further talks.

KCNA said Mr Kim had “exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement” on the letter and gave orders for it to be acted on.

The South’s delegates returned to Seoul on Tuesday morning, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said.

These were the first officials from Seoul to meet Mr Kim since he came to power. They said Mr Kim is also open to US talks, and would pause weapons testing.

Some hope of progress, but:

In previous programmes to halt its nuclear ambitions, the North has failed to keep its promises.

Hopefully South Korea and North Korea can make progress on de-escalation.

After the news from the South Korean officials was made public, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

The further he is kept away from talks and negotiations the better, but he can still stuff things up via Twitter.

Talks between North and South Korea

When Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017 in South Korea he pledged engagement with North Korea, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border. But he was snubbed.

However in his New Year message Kim Jong-Un said he was open to dialogue (as well as warning the United States he had his finger on a ‘nuclear button’.

RNZ:  Kim Jong-Un has ‘nuclear button’ on desk

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned the United States that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but he has offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he is “open to dialogue” with Seoul.

Rather than encouraging US measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, Kim said.

“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment. Both the North and the South should make efforts.”

Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.

South Korea has responded positively. RNZ: South Korea sets date for high-level talks with North

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed on Tuesday that representatives could meet at Panmunjom, the so-called “truce village”.

“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” said Mr Cho.

“I repeat, the government is open to talking with North Korea, regardless of time, location and form.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said earlier today that inter-Korean relations were linked to resolving the North’s nuclear program.

“The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program, so the foreign ministry should coordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this,” he said in opening remarks at a cabinet meeting.

Analysts think that the offer for talks from North Korea may be an attempt to drive a wedge between South Korea and the US.

US-based experts saw Kim’s speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in US-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there,” said Douglas Paal, a former senior US diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the US drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda.”

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia until last April and now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said there was an argument to be made to encourage North Korea’s Olympic participation but that it should not be taken too far.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to dial down some of the signaling and the rhetoric … but not to load up their tray with concessions in advance. We should reward responsible behavior, but not try to bribe North Korea into behaving; that doesn’t work,” he said.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul said Mr Kim was likely to tone down his weapons testing – at least ahead of the Olympics.

“What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena,” he said. “Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics.”

Donald Trump has responded viw Twitter:

As is common Trump is factually wrong.

The last high-level talks took place in December 2015 in the Kaesong joint industrial zone.

They ended without any agreement and the meeting’s agenda was not made public.

Fear of military escalation, in particular of nuclear attack, whether intentional or not, will be strong incentive for both North and South Korea to work something out. China and Japan will also be very keen on de-escalation.

Possibly “Irreversible” Slide Towards Nuclear War

There is little doubt North Korea would come off very badly if the tensions between them and the US burst into military action.

But they are not likely to be the only ones severely impacted.

China, South Korea and Japan in particular will be very uneasy about the escalating confrontation.

Trump and the US are a lot safer lobbing bombs from afar, but at risk to them is their standing in the world.

While New Zealand is a long way from any potential nuclear fallout the trade repercussions could impact us.

And I’d be very wary of travelling in that region at the moment.

Mad about THAAD and other China problems

Tensions appear to be escalating over the firing of missiles towards Japan by North Korea and the US completing missile deployments in South Korea.

Washington Post:

Given how angry Beijing gets about THAAD, you may be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. missile system, deployed to South Korea, is primarily aimed at China. However, Washington and Seoul have justified the system by saying it is necessary to defend South Korea from North Korean aggression.

With the missile system finally in place and tensions between the Koreas and China exploding again, here’s a guide to controversy.

See it at Why China is so mad about THAAD, a missile defense system aimed at deterring North Korea

What does this mean for the United States?

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump spoke frequently of the threat posed by North Korea and suggested he may lean on China, who he said had “total control over North Korea.”

However, since taking office in January the new U.S. president has been uncharacteristically mute on the subject matter, despite provocations from Pyongyang. This has left many North Korea-watchers to wonder what exactly his eventual policy will be.

The deployment of THAAD seems to be one of the first real moves against North Korea, though it was largely a continuation of policies undertaken by President Barack Obama. The backlash from China, however, along with various dramatic moves from North Korea, show that the situation is complicated.

Trust North Korea? Trust China? Trust Trump?

South Korea spied on Tim Groser

South Korea also spied on New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser.

If governments are wanting to promote candidates for major international roles surely they do their homework on the other candidates.

So South Korea will have spied on New Zealand and on Tim Groser. So will the other countries that where promoting candidates for the World Trade Organisation’s top job.

I don’t have any proof of this – but then Nicky Hager seems to make narrow assumptions that aren’t always supported by solid evidence so I can presume stuff too.

I would be astonished if South Korea and many other countries didn’t keep an eye or five on what New Zealand and it’s Government ministers are up to, especially on things related to their own interests.

So I’m sure South Korea would have spied on us to some extent.

Is spying on countries you’re trying to do business with bad?

It depends on to what extent. If it’s done to be better informed about what you might be dealing with then it’s hardly a scandal.

If spying was done to try and discredit or destabilise another country then I’d be more concerned. Even Nicky Hager doesn’t seem to be claiming anything like that.

I’m sure the GCSB will continue to keep monitoring other countries. And I’m sure South Korea do their share of spying too, including on New Zealand and on Tim Groser.

Meanwhile New Zealand play South Africa in the cricket world cup semi-final today. I’m sure they’ve been busy spying on each other, doing their best to analyse strengths and weaknesses in the opposition.