North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was treated to a lavish welcome by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a secretive trip to Beijing as both sides seek to repair ties ahead of landmark summits with Seoul and Washington. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was treated to a lavish welcome by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a secretive trip to Beijing as both sides seek to repair ties ahead of landmark summits with Seoul and Washington. Picture: AFP/KCNA/KNS

Kim gamble that could backfire

DONALD Trump is taking a huge gamble on meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and this move could backfire spectacularly on the United States.

That's the view of experts who argue Mr Trump needs to proceed with caution ahead of meeting Kim in a highly anticipated summit expected to be held next month.

The two leaders, who were last year caught in a fierce war of words, have adopted a more conciliatory tone in the lead up to the summit.

However experts warn the US still needed to be prepared in case things soured once again.

In an article published in The Interpreterlast week, Lowy Institute Senior Fellow Sam Roggeveen argues the US has taken ownership of the North Korean problem and that in itself came with huge risks.

Mr Roggeveen, who is also a visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, questions why America has taken ownership of the issue "to the point that it is now vulnerable to having one or more of its cities destroyed by a North Korean missile?"

He also argues while the US still has a key role in the region in terms of defending its ally South Korea, Americans are right to question their role in the upcoming summit.

While the US has an interest in maintaining its leadership in the "rules-based order" in Asia he goes on to question whether than role is "important enough for the US to potentially sacrifice one of its cities?"

Mr Roggeveen argues that withdrawing US troops in exchange for an end to North Korea's ICBM program would be a good idea.

Kim has been on a charm offensive in recent weeks and is pictured here meeting with President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach. Picture: AFP/KCNA
Kim has been on a charm offensive in recent weeks and is pictured here meeting with President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach. Picture: AFP/KCNA

There is no doubt Kim is on a major charm offensive, having staged meetings with South Korean delegates and meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.

The visit to China was Kim's first since assuming power in 2011 and comes amid tough new sanctions placed on the regime following a series of missile tests last year.

RISK FACTOR

According to Park Strategies senior vice president Sean King, an expert on Asian politics, there were two major risks Mr Trump was taking in going ahead with a summit.

New York-based Mr King said he didn't believe the US would be bombed no matter how badly the summit went, but said there could be negative consequences for others.

"No matter how badly any Trump-Kim summit goes, there's no chance North Korea will end up bombing us because Kim wouldn't want to risk his own certain destruction in return," he told news.com.au.

"My fear is that Trump cuts some deal with Kim that eases up on sanctions. Or, worse, agrees to something that spares us from North Korea's ICBMs but still leaves Japan and South Korea vulnerable to Kim's short and medium-range missiles."

Mr King said this was concerning given the President's disdain for alliances, but newly appointed National Security Adviser John Bolton should help ensure Mr Trump doesn't give away too much.

BARGAINING CHIP?

According to John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies and director of ANU's Southeast Asia Institute, many people will hoping there will be a grand bargain at the end of the summit.

However Prof Blaxland cautioned against such an approach including any talk of the US withdrawing from the Korean Peninsula in exchange for a denuclearised North Korea.

"Promises made in advance can easily be reversed and Kim knows that," he said.

"What is more, an American indication that a denuclearised Korean peninsula would be linked with an American military withdrawal needs to be taken with a degree of scepticism as the US retains an interest in remaining engaged."

Prof Blaxland said the US was heavily invested in Northeast Asian security and a withdrawal from Korea would have knock-on consequences on an increasingly nervous Japan - which is already contemplating developing nuclear weapons.

"In addition, the United States has entered into a virtual trade war with China and, in weighing up its options and potential points of leverage, would be reluctant to see any of its potential bargaining chips given away unnecessarily - like the US military presence in South Korea, a capability which is not far from mainland China and of enduring concern to the Chinese," he said.



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