本文发布于《Global Times》，原标题为“Trump pours cold water on Washington-Pyongyang relations”，作者系盘古智库学术委员、中国人民大学国际关系学院副教授成晓河。
As international community tried to hail North Korea's dismantlement of its nuclear test site, US President Donald Trump poured cold water on the situation by cancelling long-planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a letter addressed to him on Thursday.
The decision was not a bolt from the blue. As North Korea denounced the "Max Thunder" drill and suspended inter-Korean high-level meeting, negative sentiment began to simmer in both countries. On May 16, North Korea first vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Kye-gwan, made a strong public statement, criticizing the unbridled and reckless remarks made by high-ranking American officials including John Bolton as "a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers." He warned that "If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the North Korea-US summit."
As a response to Kim Kye-gwan's remarks, US Vice President Pence warned that North Korea could end up like Libya if it fails to make a nuclear deal with Washington. Pence's scathing words invited North Korea's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui's counterattacks. Choe did not hide her anger that "such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice-president." She warned, "in case the US offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the North Korea-US summit." Obviously, the harsh words from both countries ratcheted up tensions and badly poisoned the atmosphere surrounding the planned summit. Even though both did so in an attempt to bolster their negotiating positions and gain more concessions from the other side, the unwanted side-effects were too large to be ignored. The meager trust between the two countries is gone. It is difficult to imagine how the Kim-Trump summit can go ahead in Singapore under the shadow of name-calling and finger-pointing.
The cancellation of the summit also demonstrates the complexity of the issues involved. Trump and Kim prepared to hold the summit with something different in their minds. For Trump, he wants a complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; North Korea must give up its ICBM and nuclear weapons, and ideally, its nuclear capability. For Kim, he certainly does not want to abandon its nuclear and ICBM weapons for free, since his country had made tremendous sacrifices to develop them. As he decided to shift gear from developing economy and nuclear weapons simultaneously to focusing on economic construction, he wants to seek a complete denuclearization of the peninsula at his own pace, including a guarantee of regime safety, an economic compensation and the lifting of the multilateral and unilateral sanctions.
The time for the US and North Korean governments to prepare for the summit is too short. In less than three months since Trump agreed to meet Kim on March 8, the two governments have struggled to iron out their differences and forge a minimum consensus, while created grievance, anxiety and disappointment among themselves.
Setting June 12 as the date of the summit not only demonstrates decision-makers' underestimation of the complexity of the issues, but also reveals their awkward diplomatic skills. Trump has been too eager to have a historical meeting with Kim, which may help boost his personal reputation and strengthen the Republican Party's position in the mid-term election. The summit is yet to come, but commemorative coins to honor the planned meeting have been minted. It was also striking that when Trump announced the date for the summit, North Korea did not do the same thing simultaneously.
For North Korea, it has already showed its willingness to make a change and pursue a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It adopted a new national strategy in the third plenary of the 7th party congress by replacing the Byungjin line with the "economy only" one, released the three detained American citizens, and dismantled the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site, but its senior officials repeatedly threatened to put off or cancel the planned summit. If North Korea does want to hold the summit on schedule, its tit-for-tat approach, used to be quite effective in dealing with South Korea and the United States' provocations, might not be a good choice this time.
Nonetheless, the "6.12 summit" was already canceled, both the US and North Korea will bear the brunt of negative impacts. New uncertainties and difficulties will be created and complicate future efforts to seek a solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula. After the announcement, Trump tried to reduce the fallout and said, "Hopefully everything is going to work out well with North Korea. A lot of things can happen. Including the fact that, perhaps, it's possible the existing summit could take place or a summit at some later date."
Trump has kicked the ball into Kim's court. We will wait and see if Kim agrees to set another date for his meeting with Trump or embarks on the old confrontational path with him. Hopefully, he will choose the former.■