The United States and North Korea experienced a significant shift in relations this week, as the long-rumored summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un took place in Singapore. The two heads of state signed an agreement in which they committed to “establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity” and “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.”
While those words are encouraging, the specific policy proposals behind them remain unclear. Many Americans are left wondering what to expect from a country that has repeatedly threatened nuclear action against the United States. Professor Xiaoping Cong, a professor of history at the University of Houston College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, is an expert on East Asia took some time to share her thoughts on the state of diplomatic relations between the two sides.
“My initial reaction to this summit was one of surprise,” said Professor Cong. Although the prevailing hope is that the summit will foster enduring peace between North Korea and the United States, Professor Cong cautions against extreme optimism. “This might be an interim peace, given our capricious president and the strongly anti-North Korea Republican congress...It is very possible that at any step, things could go wrong and both sides would go back to ground zero.”
Given that President Trump and Kim Jong-un have traded harsh words in the past, many are surprised that they decided to meet on seemingly civil terms. As Professor Cong sees it, both men may have agreed to the summit for reasons that go beyond foreign policy. “After Kim solidified his power and achieved progress in making nuclear missiles, he needed to shift his attention to improving people’s livelihood and domestic development,” said Professor Cong. “I am uncertain about President Trump’s motive. One possibility is that it involves his midterm election.”
Although it will likely take many years to understand the full impact of the summit, Professor Cong believes its ramifications will be felt in Asian nations beyond North Korea. “President Trump has made a big concession to North Korea, because the agreement would require the U.S. to withdraw its nuclear weapons from South Korea. This is a big, big strategic contraction, and I am not sure President Trump realizes what he is doing. If he does not, Congress will soon tell him. Then the U.S. and North Korea would go back to ground zero.”