In Beijing, observers are urging vigilance as the U.S. appears dead-set on sabotaging the peace process, endangering not only regional stability but also the warming relationship between the governments of Xi Jinping and President Moon Jae-in.
WASHINGTON — Talks between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, as North Korea is officially known) have taken a decided turn for the worse this week, proving the inability of the two sides to make headway since June’s Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un.
The halt in forward progress was made explicitly clear last Friday, as the former reality television star abruptly canceled a visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following the secretary’s receipts of a letter from Workers’ Party of Korea Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol listing the North’s grievances. Trump announced in a stream of tweets that no further visits would likely take place until after his trade war with China, a stalwart ally of the DPRK, comes to an end.
…Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
In one of various tweets Wednesday, the U.S. commander-in-chief – referring to himself in the third-person – noted:
President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!”
On the previous day, Secretary of Defense James Mattis had poured further cold water on talks and appeared to nix the chance that U.S.-South Korean war games would indefinitely remain on hold, noting that the prior suspension was a “good-faith measure” resulting from Singapore, but the U.S. has “no plans at this time to suspend any more military exercises.” The move to continue the war games, which have taken place since the end of the Korean War in 1953, will no doubt be music to the ears of the innumerable anti-DPRK hawks in both Washington and Seoul.
A bitter turn in the weather
For those who have hoped to advance the inter-Korean peace process and dispel the shadow of a U.S.-imposed war on the Korean Peninsula, however, the current chill in relations is a foreboding sign of the overall fragility of talks between a prickly, vigilant Pyongyang and an administration possessed by a “winner takes all” attitude toward international relations.
The two sides have taken diametrically opposed positions, with the DPRK insisting that the Korean War be formally ended with a peace declaration, while the U.S. has demanded a detailed list of nuclear facilities as a prerequisite to following up on its end of the Singapore bargain.
The DPRK has blasted the U.S. diplomatic approach as an “unjust and brigandish ‘denuclearization first’ policy” masking military motives, according to the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee. The paper — citing South Korean media reports of continued drills by elite U.S. forces practicing “the infiltration of Pyongyang,” which it described as a “criminal plot” — stated:
We cannot but take a serious note of the double-dealing attitudes of the U.S. as it is busy staging secret drills involving man-killing special units while having a dialogue with a smile on its face.
The U.S. would be sadly mistaken if it thinks that it can browbeat someone through trite ‘gunboat diplomacy’ which it used to employ as an almighty weapon in the past and attain its sinister intention.
The U.S. should ponder over its deeds.”
Seoul and China look askance at U.S. moves
In the meantime, Pyongyang has continued to extend an olive branch to the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has long been a fervent supporter of engagement and reunification between the divided Korean states. Citing this past April’s Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula by Moon and Kim, a separate article by Pyongyang’s official Korea Central News Agency noted:
No matter how the surrounding environment and situation may change, we have to firmly maintain the principle of national independence and open up the epochal phase for the improvement and development of the north-south ties … Whoever is a member of the Korean nation should turn out as one in implementing the declaration, being aware of the mission and obligation before the nation to end the history of division and confrontation and open up a new era of peace and reunification.”
Seoul, for its part, had hoped to adopt an end-of-war declaration along with the United States and China following a planned September summit between the two Korean governments, yet the plan will no doubt face a major setback given the past week’s events.
Making sure the train doesn’t run on time
Plans to begin laying the groundwork for a rehabilitated inter-Korean railway network were dashed Wednesday when the head of the UN Command in South Korea – who also serves as the commander of U.S. Forces Korea – prevented a South Korean government train from traveling to Sinuiju to participate in the joint inspection of DPRK railways. The prohibition was made on the pretext that moving beyond the Military Demarcation Line separating the two Koreas required prior notification, which Seoul claims it provided well before the 48 hours required.
Sources who spoke to South Korean progressive newspaper Hankyoreh, which is close to the Moon administration, cast doubt on the excuse, noting “that the U.S. government is making a big deal about the prior notification deadline because it wants to stop this project from going ahead.”
Moon had robustly promoted the idea of the inter-Korean corridor as the “beginning of shared prosperity on the Korean Peninsula” in a speech on August 15 marking National Liberation Day, noting that it would be an important step on the road of the Panmunjom declaration.
For Trump, sabotaging peace is all part of the “art of the deal”
In Beijing, observers are urging vigilance as the U.S. appears dead-set on sabotaging the peace process, endangering not only regional stability but also the warming relationship between the governments of Xi Jinping and President Moon.
Beijing has raised sharp concerns with Seoul over the placement of the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea. While the U.S. claims that THAAD is necessary to protect Seoul from North Korea, Beijing views the deployment as going far beyond South Korean defense needs — boosting U.S. capabilities for looking deep into Chinese territory and blunting China’s “second-strike” capability in case of a nuclear confrontation.
In the case of any outbreak of U.S. military hostilities, the South Korean military is bound by treaty obligations to obey the U.S. Forces Korea commander – making the Moon government especially vulnerable to Washington’s pressure, given Seoul’s subordinate role in the U.S.-dominated Asia-Pacific security architecture.
The White House appears to be reducing the Korean nuclear crisis to the level of a bargaining chip in the ongoing trade war with China, not only stymieing the chance of denuclearizing the entire Korean Peninsula but also potentially killing the chance of achieving the Korean people’s ambitions for lasting peace and unity in their divided land.
Feature Photo | President Trump discusses North Korea with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the Oval Office on April 24, 2018. Photo | Dan Scavino Jr.
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.