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How Kim Jong-un is schooling Trump in the art of the phantom deal

19 1 26

News that North Korea may be enhancing its nuclear capabilities comes as no surprise. Yet the implications for regional alliance dynamics reveal the tragedy of great power politics, to use the phrase of acclaimed international relations scholar John Mearsheimer.

Kim Jong-un’s third Beijing visit, coming one week after his “historic” summit with US President Donald Trump, contained no great revelations.

Designed to allow the North Korean leader to debrief China’s president, Xi Jinping, on Kim’s meeting with Trump, it reaffirmed what Kim termed in his first visit to Beijing as the “preciousness of the DPRK-PRC friendship”.

US softens nuke stance as Pompeo heads to North Korea for first overnight stay

Yet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his third visit to Pyongyang last week. In May, after Trump announced he was cancelling the summit with Kim, the secretary commented that a sanctions programme remained in place and that the US-North Korea tensions were at “situation normal”, referring to the US campaign of “maximum pressure” aimed at forcing North Korea to rein in its nuclear weapons programme.

Like the outcome of the recent Kim-Trump summit, however, this term is fraught with ambiguity. If “normal” means maintaining a policy of deterrence and the status quo beneath the frenzy of summit diplomacy, then the US can say it has been broadly successful. If normal means making visible progress towards getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, however, think again.

Satellite images showing improvements being made to the North’s nuclear research facility at Yongbyon, followed by reports that Pyongyang has increased its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, seem to support post-summit scepticism. Yet perhaps........

© South China Morning Post