Asia’s Response to the Trump-Kim Summit
On June 12, 2018, people around the world turned their attention to a meeting many considered one of the most memorable in recent history. U.S. President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un met at the Capella Hotel, Sentosa Island, Singapore to sign an agreement that will hopefully bring an end to nuclear brinkmanship on the Korean Peninsula.
Singapore Hosts Trump-Kim Summit
It is the first time for both countries’ leaders to meet since the unofficial end of the Korean War in 1953. Singapore was abuzz with excitement and hopes of seeing Jong-un and Trump in real person.
Both Trump and Jong-un met the host country’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in a separate occasion ahead of the anticipated summit. Loong praised Jong-un as a confident young leader with the goodwill and desire to create ”a new path” forward for North Korea.
Despite the tremendous budget, Loong said that Singapore was willing to pay and contribute to the summit for the sake of establishing peace in Korea.
“We hope that by providing a venue which is neutral, which is agreeable to both sides, we enable a productive summit to take place which will turn around the negative trend of events in Korea over the last few months and set Korea on to a new and positive trajectory – for them and for the world,” Loong said.
Markets Close On Highs
Asian markets wrapped up the day higher as the two leaders met for the summit, despite mixed responses to the summit. CNBC reported that the Hang Send index gained 0.2 percent by Tuesday afternoon and Japan’s Nikkei 225 went up 0.33 percent, or 74.31 points, to close at 22,878.35 but was off a session high of 23,011.57 reached in the morning. The U.S. dollar also strengthened nearly 0.3 percent against the Japanese Yen and traded at 110.33.
World Recognition For ASEAN
As the host of the summit, Singapore spent almost 20 million Singaporean dollars on preparations and hosting the meeting. The tiny island nation’s success in facilitating one of the world’s most important meetings in recent years is a positive showing for member nations of ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and boosts ASEAN’s role in creating peace and stability.
According to Sugeng Rahardjo, former Indonesian ambassador to China and Mongolia, the meeting could provide a spark for greater dialogue and peace throughout the ASEAN region.
Rahardjo, who is a former diplomat for ASEAN and former ambassador to South Africa, also added that Indonesia, as a new United Nations Security Council non-permanent member, could help further diplomatic efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. Additionally, Indonesia has historically good relations with both North Korea and the United States.
“We could use this momentum to promote trade with both North and South Korea even with the United States,” Rahardjo said.
Ahead of the meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Trump announced his commitment to engaging Southeast Asia and supporting Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship this year.
“President Trump […] expressed the US’ continued commitment to engaging the region and his support for Singapore’s Chairmanship of ASEAN,” the statement from the Singaporean Foreign Ministry said.
“In this regard, President Trump accepted the invitation from President Halimah Yacob to make a state visit to Singapore in November 2018, in conjunction with the 6th ASEAN-US Summit and 13th East Asia Summit,” the statement added.
How will the agreement impact security in the region?
Regardless of the meeting’s outcome, the summit will likely have a significant impact on security and stability in the ASEAN region.
Some experts cast doubt that North Korea is really willing to halt its nuclear program, despite signing a joint statement with President Trump suggesting so. They argue Pyongyang is merely trying to boost its bargaining position to the U.S.
“Unless we come to a crisis point, North Korea will not change, it will not disarm,” Sung-Yoon Lee, assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said last month.
North Korea has repeatedly requested that the U.S. withdraw its troops from neighboring South Korea. Trump id announce that the U.S. will put on hold military exercises conducted with South Korea while the North Korea negotiations continue. However, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed that he had been consulted on freezing the military exercises, but he declared that no troops have been instructed to withdraw from the peninsula.
“Right now the U.S. and South Korea are not engaged [on troop withdrawal] and we’re the only ones who make up our mind on this,” Mattis said. “We’re not engaged in any reduction of U.S. forces talks, and I think we all wait until after this settles and we go forward.”
Any U.S. troop withdrawal will impact U.S. allies Japan and South Korea. Both countries would likely want assurance that North Korea will not be a security concern for Japan and South Korea.
What about North Korean sanctions?
Following the meeting, China suggested that the U.S. and the international community should consider lifting the sanctions imposed on North Korea.
“Sanctions are a means, not an end. The [UN] security council’s actions should support and conform to the efforts of current diplomatic talks towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs.
China added to the optimism of the meeting saying, “Today, that the two countries’ highest leaders can sit together and have equal talks has important and positive meaning and is creating a new history.”
Not All Are Happy
The Guardian reported that at a train station in Seoul, people cheered and applauded as they watched Trump and Jong-Un shake hands.
Others who oppose the Jong-un regime told the Guardian that they were dismayed by the summit as it only reconfirmed Jong-un’s hold on North Korea.
“Promising security for Kim’s regime will mean he can stay in power and will just keep on oppressing the North Korean people,” North Korean refugee Jung Gwang-il said. “If denuclearisation happens while people in North Korea are dying, it’s pointless.”
Choi Jung-hoon, who was an army officer in North Korea’s cyber-hacking unit for almost 20 years before he escaped in 2006, told the Guardian he was furious because the summit led to “only good things for Kim Jong-un”.
“Trump completely lost to Kim, he was dragged around by Kim,” Choi said. “This has all been a political show by Trump, North Korea got away with everything they wanted. They said they will ‘denuclearise’, nothing has been said in detail.”