Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea at the Panmunjom Summit in April 2018, setting the stage for President Trump’s meeting with Kim in June. Just days after the summit, Paul Haenle spoke with Dr. Tong Zhao, a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, about the significance of the Kim-Moon meeting and its implications for China and the United States.
Zhao said North Korea remains committed to maintaining its nuclear weapons program following the Kim-Moon summit, pointing to vague outcomes and timelines surrounding denuclearization in the Panmunjom Declaration. Zhao said Pyongyang had been strategic in its recent diplomatic outreaches, quickly repairing relations with China and South Korea. By announcing a halt in its nuclear and long range missile tests, North Korea also significantly lowered the chance that China or Russia will agree to further sanctions in the United Nations. Zhao attributed the North’s willingness to return to diplomacy to the completion of its nuclear weapons program, arguing that sanctions had a secondary effect. Zhao said China was happy with the progress made at the Kim-Moon meeting and that the chance of military conflict continue to decline. However, he argued that Beijing was concerned that China might be sidelined in future negotiations. U.S. views of China as a strategic competitor have also stoked fears in Beijing that Washington may use North Korea to balance against China in the region, Zhao said. He expects the Trump-Kim meeting to have similar outcomes as those at the Kim-Moon summit. While the goal of denuclearization is likely to be reaffirmed, the meeting will focus on symbolic gestures rather than concrete outcomes. Zhao said China will be watching closely to see what is discussed regarding finding a resolution to the Korean War, an area where Beijing will want a say in the agreed outcome.
Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Tong Zhao is a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. His research focuses on strategic security issues, including nuclear weapons policy, arms control, nonproliferation, missile defense, space security, and China’s security and foreign policy.