Dr. Leonid Petrov, Visiting Fellow, College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University, Canberra uses his vast experience to make sense of the situation.
Donald Trump said he received a ‘beautiful’ letter from Kim Jong-un in the first half of June, and Kim Jong-un reciprocated this compliment by saying that Trump had sent him an ‘excellent’ letter. This letter ‘romance’ between the two leaders is continuing; the two are still continuing to communicate despite the failed Hanoi summit earlier this year. Dr. Petrov says: “Maybe they are not using the same usual diplomatic channels but communication is nevertheless continuing. We don’t know exactly who delivers those letters, when they were written and what is in them, but the mainstream media in both countries is referring with some cautious optimism about the possibility of a third summit. …I think that this kind of correspondence between the leaders of the two most unpredictable States gives some security to international relations. Firstly, they correspond directly, secondly, they are talking about the denuclearisation of N. Korea, something that Kim Jong-un’s predecessors refused to do. The nuclear development program used to be non-negotiable, but Kim Jong-un is ready to abandon it if the price is right….”
Despite all the high technology which is currently available to facilitate communication in our day and age, the traditional format whereby leaders physically meet each, look each other in the eye and shake hands, as in a summit, is still vitally important. Dr. Petrov comments: “This is particularly so in the East; in China, Korea, Japan, East Asia in general, because there, personal relationships are the tokens of successful deals. Nobody will get into a contract and sign a deal without knowing the counterpart personally. Two or three or four summits help to develop the long-term relationships. In The United States it is also important to shake hands. In some States, a deal would not be finalised without a handshake. So I think it is highly symbolic that the two leaders have already met twice and may meet again very soon…”
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited North Korea. Dr. Petrov comments: “I think that the summit between the Chinese and the North Korea leaders, something which has not happened in Pyongyang for about 40 years is highly significant. Although the North Korean leader travelled to China 4 times last year to meet the Chinese leadership [...] It shows that China is doing something as well as Washington, perhaps unilaterally, and the Americans might not even be consulted or briefed about what happened. So, this summit was important for regional stability. Americans probably looked at it with suspicion, particularly as the backdrop to this summit was the American-China trade war…. But not everything is bright and shiny in the Chinese-North Korean relationship either. We know that the Bilateral Security Treaty is due to expire. This is the defence treaty between the two countries. A renewal of this defence treaty has not been publicly announced. This may be a warning sign that China may not be prepared to go into a war to support N. Korea if it continues to develop its nuclear weapons…. There does seem to be a consensus between China, N. Korea and Russia that these three countries need to support each other in terms of defence, economic cooperation, and they look at American activity in the region with suspicion. So, it looks as though the cold war mentality is very actively being revived. The G20 summit is I think going to clarify the position in terms of who is still allied to the United States, who is still a member of the Coalition of the Willing if something bad happens on the Korean peninsula, because Trump is still very vocal about the possibility of pulling troops out of S. Korea.”
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