Sentiment inside the Beltway has turned sharply against China. There are many issues where the two parties sound more or less the same. Trump and others in the administration seem heavily invested in a ‘get very tough with China’ stance. It’s possible that some Democrats might argue that a decoupling strategy borders on lunacy. But if Trump believes this will play well with his core constituencies as his reelection campaign moves into high gear, he will probably decide to stick with it, if the costs and the collateral damage seem manageable. But that’s a very big if, especially if the downsides of a protracted trade war for both American consumers and for American firms become increasingly apparent.
[South Korean President] Moon’s challenge is get something from Kim [Jong-un] that he can then sell to [President] Trump. To judge from Trump’s endless flattery of Kim, this shouldn’t be too hard. The question is whether this game can persist indefinitely without definitive evidence of North Korean actions [as opposed to words] of what Kim has supposedly agreed to.
There’s no question that many in Southeast Asia see the region caught uncomfortably between the United States and China. The Trump administration’s repeated calls for a free and open Indo-Pacific have fallen flat in various capitals, which many see as very thin gruel, begging the issue of how the U.S. intends to remain relevant to the regional future.
We are not at that point, that point of no return, but I just don’t think that [Secretary of State] Pompeo can sell this [summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un] as a ‘win’ unless there is something that is tangible, agreeable and interactive, if you might say, between the United States and North Korea. Short of that, we are just spinning our wheels. He [Pompeo] can’t come back empty-handed. But the question is what he would consider sufficient for his purposes to justify this trip.
There might be some kind of a broad document signed in Singapore, we don’t know yet, that would mark at least, on paper, the formal end of the Korean war, the formal end of hostilities on the Korean peninsula. But the problem with that is that hostilities have not ended on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is armed to the teeth, South Korea also has very substantial capabilities of it’s own, the United States has a very significant presence, so none of those things have changed and that is not even getting into the question of the long-term status of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
We’ve been in situations like this before where the North and South [Koreas] have made momentary accommodation with one another, [but] right now the stakes are much higher, because you now have nuclear weapons deployed in North Korea, you have long-range missiles, you have a variety of threats to the region. Unless and until those issues can be meaningfully addressed, we…may be in a cessation of hostilities, but the possibility of war would be ever present.
President Trump agreed to [the summit with Kim Jong-un] initially on a very impulsive basis, without any kind of consultations with his immediate circle, without any consideration of the complexities of it and, frankly, with the belief that somehow North Korea could be talked out of its nuclear weapons.
It just seemed to me that ultimately even Trump had to face the music on this [potential summit meeting with Kim Jong-un] and simply cancel it. The North Koreans have never said they would give up their nuclear weapons. Never. And it might have behooved the administration if they had paid more attention to what North Korea says very, very consistently.