The high-profile summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping was held in Florida on April 6 and 7. After the summit, which had been the focus of much media attention, Trump said that tremendous progress had been made in developing Washington’s relationship with Beijing, and the two sides looked forward to working together in the future. Also, on a positive note, Xi said that the two sides reached many common understandings. In an unusual move, however, the summit ended without a press conference or joint declaration, raising speculation that the two leaders failed to reach any substantial agreement. In regards to the North Korean nuclear issue, they only shared the view on the grave nature of the problem and on the need for stronger cooperation in principle, but there were no specific details of any possible solutions. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain.
While both sides agreed on the seriousness of North Korea’s nuclear programs, it seems they had differing views on relevant strategies and policies. Taking a close look at a briefing by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the summit, we can assume that the U.S. will give China a certain period of time to deal with North Korea. But if China is slow to resolve the North Korean problem, the U.S. could impose a secondary boycott and then opt for military action as a last resort. Tillerson said that all options, including military action, are on the table, but he also noted in an interview that the U.S. could hold dialogue with North Korea if the communist state is sincerely willing to negotiate. Although the U.S.-China summit ended without a press conference or joint statement, the two sides may have reached some tacit agreement on the North Korean nuclear issue.
While the summit was underway on April 6, the U.S. fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at an air base in Syria. The surprise attack was aimed at punishing the Assad government in Syria for brutally using chemical weapons against civilians. But given the timing of the attack, it is also viewed as a strong warning message for China and North Korea.
The missile strike is a warning against the Syrian government forces that used weapons of mass destruction. It also has the effect of denying Trump’s involvement with the Putin administration in Russia, which is supporting the Syrian regime. Some diplomatic experts say that Trump is seeking to raise his profile in domestic politics by demonstrating that the U.S. is leading world politics. Also, Trump seems to be indicating that the U.S. could take military action if North Korea continues with its nuclear and missile development in defiance of international concerns. In doing so, the U.S. is pressuring China and trying to draw North Korea to the negotiating table. The attack in Syria is regarded as a stern warning to Pyongyang, which is reportedly preparing for a nuclear or missile test in April.
On April 8, right after the U.S.-China summit, the U.S. sent the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Western Pacific close to the Korean Peninsula. Previously, the Carl Vinson arrived at a port in Busan on March 15 to take part in the combined military drills between South Korea and the U.S., and moved to Singapore on April 4. Four days later, it was sent back to the waters near the Korean Peninsula. Explaining the reason for the deployment, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Dave Benham called North Korea “the number one threat in the region for seeking reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing missile and nuclear programs.”
In a move to put pressure on China and strongly warn North Korea against any nuclear or missile tests, Trump is showing that he is able to put his words into action. But I would dismiss rumors of Washington’s pre-emptive strike on North Korea in April. If the U.S. is seriously considering attacking North Korea, it will first evacuate the more than 400-thousand Americans living in South Korea. But there are no signs of that. Also, the financial market in South Korea has not detected any abnormal signs so far. But if North Korea launches a long-range missile or conducts a nuclear test around April 15 or 25, the situation could change. April 15 is the birthday of North Korea’s late founder Kim Il-sung, and April 25 marks the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People’s Army. We have to keep an eye on any new developments in North Korea on those occasions.
In a briefing on the results of the U.S.-China summit, Tillerson said that there will be no talks with the North Korean regime without a change of attitude from Pyongyang, stressing that dialogue will be meaningless if North Korea is not committed to denuclearization. In an interview with ABC on April 9, he also said that the U.S.’ objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, not to change the North Korean regime.
China argues that Washington’s policy of pressuring North Korea gives the regime an excuse for developing nuclear weapons, since Pyongyang is in a position to engage in dialogue with the U.S. at anytime. Tillerson’s remarks could be an answer to this argument. That is, the U.S. says that it places pressure on North Korea not because it wants to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime, but because the North sticks to its nuclear development. This nuclear program jeopardizes peace and stability in Northeast Asia and poses a threat to the international community. Also, significantly, Tillerson said that the U.S. may start dialogue with North Korea if the North suspends all missile launches.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Trump said that he had promised a better trade deal to China if it solved the North Korean problem. He said he had explained this to the Chinese president during their summit. He also made it clear that the U.S. would handle the North Korean issue on its own if China is unwilling to help. It seems Trump was stressing the importance of China’s role once again. Attention turns to whether and how the U.S. and China may approach North Korea in a different way in the future, and whether China will actually impose sanctions against North Korea in a practical manner.
U.S.-China relations will be greatly influenced by how North Korea will act this month and whether China may move in a way the U.S. wants. China is trying to persuade South Korea to soften its hardline stance towards Pyongyang, while warning of even tougher sanctions if North Korea makes additional provocations. China is expected to propose economic cooperation with the North if it refrains from provocative acts until the presidential election in South Korea on May 9. We will have to wait and see how North Korea will respond to China’s diplomatic measures, since it will affect U.S.-China relations and Washington’s North Korea policy as well.
China’s chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei visited South Korea on April 10, while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Seoul on April 16. We’re looking forward to hearing some meaningful messages which will ease tension in the region and break the nuclear deadlock.
[Interview] Free After-school Program Gives Hope to N. Korean Kids
A group of students are studying at Kuensaem School in Gangnam-gu District, southern Seoul. It is a free after-school program designed to assist children from North Korea. Currently, 20 students from first graders to high school seniors are studying with 20 volunteer teachers. Let’s hear from school director Kwon Yu-yeon.
Mothers of the children work, so the kids are usually left unattended at home after school. They just play games or often hang around with bad company. But the working mothers feel safe leaving their children with us here. This school is important for the children and their parents alike.
Kuensaem School was set up in 2008 as a small study group for teenage defectors from North Korea and local students who learned English with native speakers. Many North Korean students had a hard time catching up with schoolwork in the South as they had not received proper education while they escaped from their home country. At the request of their parents, this after-school program was created. The owner of the building was kind enough to lease the place at a low price and a number of volunteers were willing to help. While studying with teachers one-on-one here, North Korean kids have been able to improve their grades little by little. Most of all, they have become confident about their school life. Two students share their opinions.
I won a prize in an English language competition last year. It was the first competition that I had ever participated in. I hope to take part in the competition again this year.
I came here shortly after I arrived in South Korea. I was an elementary school student, and was far behind my peers. They were eager to answer the teachers’ questions in a loud voice, and I was the only one that couldn’t give a presentation. Here, I studied really hard. Soon, I was able to answer the questions confidently, just like my friends, and my grades improved a lot. I used to get around 60 percent, but now I get between 80 and 90 percent.
As the students performed better in school and their faces brightened, their teachers were excited as well. Here again is Ms. Kwon.
We began to teach the kids when they were elementary school students. At first, they would get scores of around 30 percent, but later, around the time when they graduated, they got 95 to 100 percent. Simply watching them running fast toward me, I knew they had done well in school. If they walked slowly, lowering their heads, that would mean they didn’t do very well. Some school principals even visited me and wondered how the children could improve their grades so dramatically. The kids felt proud, of course, and I was immensely happy to hear that.
The after-school program not only assists the students in their studies but also provides personality education in order to help them heal the emotional scars caused by defecting from North Korea and resettling in an unfamiliar environment here. The students are also encouraged to take part in volunteer activities, like working at local farms. Just as South Korean students engage in different extracurricular activities, children here participate in a variety of interesting programs offered by volunteers.
Samsung Group and the Community Chest of Korea have given us support. An instructor teaches art to the children for three hours a day, and other teachers come here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to teach the students how to read books. Art therapy is also available for middle school second graders, while psychotherapy is offered to elementary school students on Thursdays. The kids can receive computer lessons during their vacation. Nearly 80 percent of the students have obtained computer-related certificates. These days, even elementary school children use PowerPoint to do some assignments, so we also teach them how to use it.
Those who began to attend the after-school program when they were in elementary school have now become junior high school students. When the teachers are busy, the students help younger children with their studies, like older brothers or sisters. Here, they are growing well as would-be leaders in a unified era.
Children are all cherishing their dreams here. A student dreams of becoming a designer, while some others hope to become a soldier or a football player. Sometimes, I find new ideas in their dreams. For example, a football competition is held on weekends. I’m glad to see the students nurturing their dreams. Here, no one says, “I don’t have any dreams.” I believe the kids are developing well.
Kuensaem School gives hopes and dreams to young students from North Korea. The dreams they cultivate day after day will hopefully lead to better communication and harmony between South and North Korea.