Breaking news suddenly headlined the entire media sources around the world - The Summit Fails. Just like a precipice that unexpectedly appeared in front of explorers, the negotiation between North Korea and the United States (U.S.) cam to halt. The historical negotiations, which were watched not only by the people from the U.S., North Korea and South Korea but by the entire world, ended in vain as Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump moved out of the conference live.
Since the 2018 North Korea - U.S. Singapore Summit, the actual process of denuclearization came to a standstill after the first meeting. The need for a new round of talks between North Korea and the U.S. has emerged, since the two countries have made no real progress. Meanwhile, Chairman Kim mentioned the relationship between North Korea and the U.S. directly in the New Year's greetings. The second summit between North Korea and the U.S. was ready for a swift resolution, and finally the leaders of both nations agreed to hold an official meeting in February 2019. However, in spite of the apparent peaceful atmosphere, the sudden news of the breakdown in negotiations shocked millions of people who had been eagerly awaiting the result of the summit.
Politics of Space and Place - Why Hanoi?
Despite its failure, the Hanoi Summit is worthy of recognition as the details have been arousing world-wide attention. One noticeable aspect was its location. Unlike Singapore, which is politically neutral and one of the major economic powers in the world, Vietnam is one of the few remaining communist countries. Moreover, Vietnam's economy is not as large as that of Singapore. Nevertheless, several other features of Vietnam were able to satisfy both North Korea and the U.S. as since Vietnam is a meaningful location for both countries.
For North Korea, Vietnam is one of their most trusted allies and has been building up a solid friendship as one of the few remaining communist nations. Chariman Kim aimed to evoke nostalgia for his people who remember his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, making two state visits to Vietnam and inspire them with national pride. Moreover, the historic alliance also made it more relaxing in terms of security issues.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Vietnam share an intricate relationship. The notorious Vietnam War once seemed to have left irreparable damage, but various economic exchanges have been continued after the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995. Moreover, the intention behind having Hanoi as the starting point of the relationship revealed a blueprint for the upcoming future. Michael Pompeo added that the Vietnamese miracle could happen to North Korea too. This unveils the U.S.' intention of suggesting the Vietnamese economic model to North Korea - coming to the world stage by implementing an open-door policy.
Trying to Hide, Trying to Find
Despite the foresaid geographical advantages of Vietnam, the negotiations eventually failed. According to CNN, it seems that the requirements presented by the U.S. did not accord with the original expectations of North Korea. Professor Ahn Mun Suk (Department of Political Science and International Relations, Chonbuk University) said, "It seems that the two sides' opinions are fundamentally different. North Korea declared that they will be eradicating Yongbyun nuclear facilities as U.S. required. In return, North Korea demanded economic sanctions related to the people's livelihood be lifted."
▲ Professor Ahn Mun Suk (Department of Political Science and International Relations, Chonbuk University)
As North Korea's first nuclear reactor, the Yongbyon uranium enrichment facility has been a symbol of North Korea's nuclear technology. Due to its symbolic value, throughout decades of talks there have often been demands to shut down the facility, yet North Korea refused to do so. In this sense, Chairman Kim's comment that Yongbyon would be closed has indeed taken many by surprise. However, President Trump wished to further include larger nuclear facilities located in Huicheon. Furthermore, President Trump added that Chairman Kim and he failed to reach an agreement on missiles and nuclear warhead systems.
Some North Korea experts say that North Korea did not expect the U.S. to be aware of nuclear facilities other than the one in Yongbyon in North Korea. This made North Korea hesitant to sign the agreement with the U.S.. According to Mike Pompeo, North Korea required the overall lifting of economic sanctions. Even though North Korea held an inter-Korean summit and a summit with the U.S. in 2018, the U.S. was suspicious that North Korea's denuclearization promise could be a lie as North Korea has changed passively towards denuclearization.
The U.S. denied China and Russia's request to ease sanctions against North Korea, saying "If North Korea does not denuclearize, it is impossible to lift or ease sanctions." Furthermore, the U.S. has been warning South Korea that there would be no inter-Korean economic cooperation without denuclearization. "I believe North Korea's request is fairly reasonable. The problem is that the U.S. has a totally different stance. U.S. thinks lifting sanctions will almost completely revive the trading between North Korea and China, which is not a preferable situation for itself," stated Professor Ahn.
A New Road Map Needed
Despite the abrupt rupture between North Korea and the U.S., it seems that North Korea will not maintain such an uncomfortable relationship for long. Economic sanctions that are preventing North Korea from exporting coal, which is one of the major means for North Korea to earn foreign currency, could be fatal for the economy of North Korea if prolonged. Since South Korea plays an important role in the relationship between North Korea and the U.S., there is a possibility for a talk between both Koreas to be organized.
Professor Ahn stressed the importance of multiple channels, including not only the president but also other diplomatic officers, for South Korea to persuade North Korea and the U.S. "We need to activate transnational communication between our government and the private sector of the U.S., and vice versa. Such actions could assist in Americans understanding North Korea, which could also help the U.S. government continue its negotiation with North Korea.
Not only North Korea and the U.S., but also many other countries are sharply divided over North Korea's complete denuclearization and the U.S.' strong economic sanctions. The failure of the Hanoi Summit looks like a stalemate situation in chess. The only way to resolve a stalemate situation in chess is to let go of congestion and start a whole new set of games. It seems that it is time for both the U.S. and North Korea to clean up the board and resume the negotiations in other respects, rather than just being stuck in a repetitive waterwheel.