Sputnik: For the first time, the US announced a clear date – January 2021 – for the denuclearization of North Korea. What are your thoughts on this?
Zhang Baohui: Frankly, I’m not very hopeful because President Moon during his current visit to Pyeongyang hasn’t succeeded in achieving a roadmap for the so-called full and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. North Korea only promised to shut down the ICBM testing site, but it’s not important really because it’s not about North Korean nuclear capabilities. He also said he’s got enough from the Americans, for example, the reverse of the sanctions and the establishment of food relations. They may also shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility, but even that won’t have much to do with denuclearization because, as estimated by US intelligence, North Korea may already possess from 20 to 60 nuclear warheads. There’s no indication from Kim that North Korea will agree to denuclearize completely, including its existing nuclear weapons stockpile, so I’m not really optimistic about what may happen in the next two years.
Zhang Baohui: They are on the same page in terms of political commitment to the issue. Kim has repeatedly expressed his willingness to proceed with denuclearization, but the question always lingers because we don’t really have a mutually agreed denuclearization timetable. If the Americans present their own timetable of denuclearization by 2021, it doesn’t mean that Kim will actually accept that. I think that at this time it is premature to try to foretell the future because North Korea is a highly unpredictable country. We just don’t know whether Kim will completely denuclearize.
Sputnik: Meanwhile, the leaders of the two Koreas achieved a landmark agreement bringing the two nations closer than ever; what will it mean for the stability of the region?
Zhang Baohui: I think this is a major achievement by President Moon; he is a true peacemaker. By this Pyeongyang visit, the two sides have consolidated the progress made in 2018. The two militaries have also designed a separate pact to promote transparency and mutual confidence. I think the Korean Peninsula will definitely become more peaceful and stable and that will benefit the entire region.
Zhang Baohui: I don’t think that either party wants to fight a war. The problem is that Moon is under domestic pressure to deliver his promise, which is that he can use a new strategy, which is peacemaking and economic integration, to motivate Kim to denuclearize. But the fundamental question is will Kim denuclearize? According to the latest public opinion surveys, more and more South Koreans are losing confidence in this promise; I think that is a big problem in the long term. The stability issue isn’t decided by the two Koreas, it also involves the US. If the Trump administration in the end believes that Kim is not sincere and that he won’t denuclearize, the US will certainly revert back to the 2017 posture, which is threats and sanctions; and the current honeymoon will be over.
Zhang Baohui: The positive contributions by China could be encouragements to North Korea to proceed with denuclearization. China may promise more economic aid in exchange to North Korea’s compliance to this agreement with the US and North Korea. That could be the role of China. But at the same time Trump has been criticizing China for negative roles. For example, he said that China is increasing economic aid to North Korea and that actually has an effect on North Korea’s motives not to proceed with denuclearization because China is now a main economic provider to North Korea and so North Korea would have fewer incentives to denuclearize. I think that the Chinese role and its effects are very murky. China says that its role is positive, but Trump has been criticizing China for the opposite.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.