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It is too early for Trump to brag about achievements

By Cai Hong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-19 07:12
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US President Donald Trump and DPRK's leader Kim Jong-un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Aboard Air Force One on his way back to Washington after meeting with Democratic People's Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, US President Donald Trump thanked Kim on Twitter for "taking the first bold step toward a bright future for his people".

The Trump-Kim summit is historic, not least because it brought together the incumbent leaders of the United States and the DPRK for the first time.

But the joint statement that Kim and Trump signed is vaguely worded. Trump hailed it as a "comprehensive document", though, saying the DPRK would "work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" while committing to "lasting and stable peace". Also, the two sides agreed to establish new relations "in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity", with the US agreeing to provide "security guarantees" to Kim.

The Trump-Kim drama has unfolded fast. We still remember that in his first speech to the United Nations in September 2017, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" the DPRK. He promised "fire and fury" if the "rogue nation" didn't abandon its nuclear program. Even last month Trump, cancelled the planned meeting with Kim only to change his decision within days, leaving much of the world confused.

Since taking office, Trump has pulled the US out of many multilateral agreements the Barack Obama administration signed, such as the 2015 Paris climate pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

Thus, his summit with Kim gave him an opportunity to show off his "art of the deal", which could help him get "historic diplomatic victory", even the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, 18 Republicans penned a letter to Norwegian Nobel Committee in May saying Trump should "receive the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work to end the Korean War, denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and bring peace to the region".

Trump is basking in the glow of chatter, perhaps even seriously believing that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. What he seems to have forgotten in the process is that it was Kim who initiated the peace process in his New Year's address, by expressing interest in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, the Republic of Korea, and urging Trump to agree to a one-on-one meeting.

Besides, Washington and Pyongyang still don't have a clear definition of denuclearization, even though they have agreed to hold follow-up negotiations "at the earliest possible date", to get down to the specifics.

And though Trump has called off US-ROK joint military drills, it remains to be seen whether they will actually stop. If the drills continue, tensions will rise again on the Korean Peninsula. And that's why Iran has advised Kim not to trust Trump who, it said, could cancel the denuclearization agreement within hours.

Trump himself has offered his critics as well as allies food for scoff. He withdrew from a joint statement within hours of inking it with the other G7 leaders, because Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians will "not be pushed around" and pledged retaliatory tariffs against the US starting July 1.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Nicholas Burns tweeted that Trump deserves credit for turning to diplomacy with the DPRK, saying the US president needs to bring the ROK and Japan into the talks and keep China close.

And nuclear scientists and foreign policy experts warn that the denuclearization process, if it really happens, needs a lot of time, patience and money.

But Trump has tweeted that the world has taken a big step back from potential nuclear catastrophe. "No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research!"
It is certainly too early for Trump to brag about achievements. We can only hope that patience and persistence prevail over the US and the DPRK so they can make lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula a reality.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief.

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