By Elif Selin Calik Muhasilovic
Dr. Fatima-Zohra Er-Rafia, who holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a focus on China and Japan, is a distinguished academic at Canada HEC Montréal and Polytechnique Montréal. She spoke to Anadolu Agency about the future meeting -- tentatively slated for June -- between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. She also shared her opinions about the position China is likely to take on this meeting.
Here are Anadolu Agency’s questions and Dr. Er-Rafia’s answers:
Beyond tit-for-tat in diplomatic duel
A sitting U.S. president will meet with a North Korean leader for the first time in history. After the leaders agreed to meet, the world's attention focused on whether the stalemate between the two nations can actually be resolved. What kind of deal do you think Trump will make with North Korea? A bad one perhaps?
That Trump and Kim Jong-un will meet soon is a historic event in itself. Goliath has, as it were, obliged David to sit down at the negotiation table because North Korea has the nuclear weapon and capabilities to reach U.S. soil, something that the U.S. cannot dismiss easily out of hand. The Korean War never ended officially, and it was at a stalemate until the recent acceleration of North Korea’s tests, which pushed South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. to find a new solution that will change the status quo. In this, North Korea has made a significant gain. It pushed the involved countries for action the way it wanted them to do; namely, sitting at the negotiation table although the American administration thinks differently, that “sanctions and pressure compelled North Korea to negotiate”. But we all know that Russia and China subverted those sanctions.
That said, a bad deal with North Korea? It depends on the definition given to bad deal… and a bad deal for whom? Clearly, a bad deal for the U.S. in the North Korean case would be North Korea’s holding on to its nuclear program since it is Kim Jong-un’s insurance that his country and himself won’t become the latest victims of American foreign policy. North Korea is aware of what is happening with Iran over the JCPOA. It is monitoring the events closely since Trump decided unilaterally that the JCPOA was a bad deal for the U.S. although the previous administration had agreed to it. This is not a point in favor of Trump.
The Confucian Kim Jong-un knows what he wants, and he will negotiate firmly while having backup plans. He will be facing Trump, the businessman, who is more interested in making deals than in real diplomacy. The meeting between the two leaders promises to be an interesting one, especially after having spent several months exchanging tit-for-tat reprisals.
Sustainable denuclearization roadmap
What will be the denuclearization roadmap for the region?
Firstly, denuclearization is understood differently by North Korea and the U.S. On the one hand, for the U.S., it means a clear plan with a short-term deadline on how to implement a complete irreversible denuclearization and to allow full verification to ensure that it has been done. On the other hand, for North Korea, denuclearization concerns not only the north but also the south of the peninsula, since South Korea is under a nuclear umbrella (of the U.S.) while North Korea has none. Pyongyang has also repeatedly emphasized the importance of having serious guarantees with regards to its security (no preventive attacks, no invasion, no regime change, and no other threats). Once these conditions are met to North Korea’s satisfaction, it will agree to the denuclearization of the whole peninsula on its own terms.
Secondly, both North Korea and the U.S. must be prepared and ready to negotiate and make concessions. Patience, especially on the part of the U.S., is mandatory to achieve a sustainable denuclearization roadmap that will lead to peace in the region after over half a century spent with a sword of Damocles hanging over its head. Concession-for-concession and compromises will be the modus operandi to follow with communication channels open. The American bullying tactics have no place here. The whole process should be under the supervision of the UN Security Council with the active participation of North Korea’s neighbors China and Russia. Once again, this is an excellent opportunity for the UN to rebuild and strengthen its image. A failure of the Summit will be a slap in the face for everyone involved, and will move negotiations back to square one.
Thirdly, following the Confucian way with small steps and frequent adjustments, the first thing that must be done is a joint declaration on peace and security in the Korean Peninsula signed by Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. This declaration must be the “final” conclusion of all previous statements and must include a clear mandate to their negotiation teams. The aim is to decrease the tension and provide a chance for peace.
Finally, Americans should be realistic when it comes to their expectations. Destroying the North Korean nuclear arsenal entirely from day one is unrealistic and will not happen. They should increase their “demands” slowly over time while accepting to do the same thing. North Koreans, on their part, will try to make the smoothest actions and gauge the situation before engaging in another step. They will remain alert and suspicious of American motives during the whole process, having seen different examples with other countries. And this is where South Korea and Japan, with the help of China and Russia (to a certain extent), can (and should) intervene in the process to discuss other pending issues, such as abductions, prisoners, and economic cooperation. The focus will regularly shift from nuclear talks to giving time to negotiators to think about and propose other offers and counter-offers.
Bolton’s model in handling North Korea’s nuclear program
John Bolton (U.S. National Security Adviser) told Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. has “very much in mind the ‘Libya model’” in handling North Korea’s nuclear program. Does the “Libyan model” sound good to you as a model for disarmament?
John R. Bolton served under the Bush administration during the Libya situation. Referring to the “Libya model” that he knows and applying it to North Korea is a short-sighted and misguided idea since the two countries are entirely different at many levels: 1) Libya was known to finance armed groups while North Korea is a completely closed country and far away from such issues; 2) Libya’s nuclear program was at its early stages while the North Korean one is advanced (North Korea has the atomic bomb and missiles with capabilities to reach the U.S.); 3) Libya was not at war with the U.S., nor was it a direct threat to it while North Korea is still officially at war with the U.S. and constitutes a real danger; and 4) Arab (in this case Libyan) mentality and ways are completely different from Confucian ones (in this case North Korea).
On top of this, Kim Jong-un is not stupid. He saw what happened to Qaddafi when he surrendered his efforts to build the atomic weapon; less than a decade later, he was killed and Libya ended up in a chaos that continues to the present day. He also witnessed what happened to Ukraine. Indeed, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons on its soil and signed the Budapest Memorandum to finalize its complete denuclearization, a memorandum that included Russian promises to respect its borders and sovereignty -- the rest is history!
Kim Jong-un will push the U.S. to come up with a different model whether the latter likes it or not. And the compensation amount will be far higher than the one given to Libya, since North Korea’s nuclear program is far more developed. Kim Jong-un will aim for maximum compensation while bringing other factors into the equation. Whether Trump the businessman will accept it or not… That’s another story.
China’s position on Kim-Trump meeting
Why did China move to steady ties with North Korea before the Trump-Kim meeting? How should we analyze the position of China regarding the region’s meeting traffic in those days?
China is concerned that it might be the most significant loser in the whole process of the North Korean denuclearization and, ultimately, of reintegrating North Korea gradually within the international community. As China was part of the problem (a participant in the Korean War, a signatory of the 1953 armistice, and North Korea’s protector), it wants and needs to and must be part of the solution.
North Korea belongs to the Chinese zone of influence and it must remain as such from Beijing’s point of view, hence the fact that it needs reassurance, especially now that China’s long-term goals (to deepen the DPRK’s economic dependence, subdue the country, and ultimately make it its dependency) have become void for now. China has lost control over Kim Jong-un to a certain extent.
That said, despite their different agendas, it is not in China and Japan’s interest to have a strong North Korea backed by the South and the U.S. It is thus not surprising to see [Japanese President Shinzo] Abe and [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] working closely to monitor the situation, notwithstanding their own issues (the South China Sea, for example). The first official step was the call held on Friday, May 4 to discuss the Korean issue. [South Korean President] Moon [Jae In], Xi, and Abe are expected to have the first trilateral talks on May 9. The Confucian way is once again in action: consulting amongst themselves to see what can be done without American interference, since Trump is unreliable, unpredictable, and is pushing towards economic isolationism (his trade war with China is just one example). Suspicion towards Trump will remain even among his strategic allies (Japan and South Korea). China and Japan will intensify their contacts over the Korean issue, and trilateral talks will take place to ensure that everyone is on the same page.