Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi: From Hate to Love to Hate
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On February 27-28 2019, Vietnam hosted the second summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. It did not cause the same frenzy as their first meeting. Many asked: will Hanoi become a repetition of Singapore? Will any real measures be taken to reduce tensions between the two sides? How could the internal situation in the USA and the DPRK and external players influence this? Experts attempted to answer these and other questions on 27 February, during the Valdai Club expert discussion moderated by Ivan Timofeev, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club.

At the time when the Kim-Trump summit had only just begun, Valdai Club expert Georgy Toloraya, Executive Director of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research and Director of the Asian Strategy Centre at the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Science, was in Vietnam. Via video link, he shared with the discussion’s participants his impressions of what was happening: “The situation is dynamic now, but no one can predict anything. They say that the final declaration is ready, there will be a mechanism of economic assistance to the DPRK and the North Koreans have allegedly confirmed their readiness to close the nuclear base. But what will happen in the end, we don’t know. ”

A more detailed conversation continued at the Valdai Club conference hall in Moscow. “What is happening at the summit will be in line with historical logic, which one can’t circumvent,” said Igor Sagitov, deputy director of the First Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry. “The negotiators are very respected and experienced politicians, they are responsible leaders of their states, and therefore I would not wait for any surprises.” This “historical logic”, in his opinion, is predicated on the fact that at the first stage of negotiations it was necessary to reduce military tensions on the peninsula, which has been achieved. At the following, second, stage, measures should be taken to foster dialogue and build confidence between the two parties, which may include the establishment of a liaison office, an exchange of delegations, or a peaceful coexistence agreement.

These measures, according to the expert, will form a proper basis for establishing security on the peninsula and, more generally, in Southeast Asia. As for the DPRK’s nuclear program, this is only one component of a more general agenda, although certainly an important one. He said that collective security and guarantees are needed, so that a peaceful situation will not be influenced from outside or by other fluctuations, so that if someone suddenly decides to leave this mechanism, it would retain its stability. It is only possible to expect concessions from the DPRK, Sagitov stressed, if it is provided with guarantees in the military, political, economic and humanitarian spheres. We can only hope for a desirable conclusion of the negotiations, the speaker concluded.

Konstantin Asmolov, Leading Research Fellow at the Korean Studies Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, agreed with his colleague and said that building a security system in the region is associated with great risks for both sides. So, Kim Jong-un risks that if he makes serious concessions in terms of disarmament, then Trump’s successor may refuse the deal, and he will be left with nothing. On the other hand, in connection with the internal political situation in the United States, Trump himself has no right to make mistakes, since this will cause a flurry of criticism from both parties in Congress. “Kim and Trump are pragmatists and they understand that war is not a choice, but negotiations that would damage the prestige of the country or its defence are not a choice either,” Asmolov emphasized. In this situation, which entails complex mutual risks, the parties put the process on pause. Some specifics are expected from the second summit, but Kim and Trump are faced with a difficult task: these should be important steps that would look good at least in context, but would not be real concessions for anyone. ”

On the part of Kim, such measures could be the dismantling of nuclear reactors, a reduction of the United States “demonization” rhetoric in the official propaganda, and neutrality in the US-China strategic confrontation. As for Trump, he is bound hand and foot to a much greater extent, so the maximum we can expect are statements about non-aggression or ending the war or a promise not to impose any sanctions alongside the existing ones.

New Trump – Kim Summit: Double Freeze Proposal Seems to Work
Konstantin Asmolov
Less than a week is left before the second summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un that is due to take place in Hanoi on February 27-28. What will be its agenda and prospects?
Expert Opinions

Asmolov’s point of view was supported by Andrei Lankov, a professor at the Seoul-based Kookmin University. “Most likely, an agreement will be reached whereby the DPRK will liquidate part of its facilities related to the nuclear programme,” he suggested. “From the US side, as I expect, some steps will be taken on sanctions exemptions for South Korea so that the South can invest in the North. The reduction of the American presence in Korea is also not excluded. There is a chance that this summit will look like Singapore, but this is unlikely, since the parties are interested in achieving some kind of result. ” For Kim, this is a matter of survival, the expert stressed, and for Trump it is still a matter of his presidential campaign, and these circumstances will inevitably affect the summit's  results.

Particular attention was paid to the sanctions against North Korea - both by the United States and by the United Nations and other players, including South Korea and Japan. Andrei Lankov stressed that the sanctions did not cause serious damage to the country’s economy, but they slowed down its development. “North Koreans can live under sanctions for quite a long time, but without economic growth. Therefore, Kim Jong-un will seek to maximize the sanctions easing from Trump,” he said.

Konstantin Asmolov, in turn, clarified that secondary sanctions may have a particularly strong influence on the North Korean economy in specific areas: this concerns, for example, expensive medical equipment. South Korea is likely to lift some of the sanctions, and the United States can help soften the UN sanctions.

There are a lot of steps that one side or the other could take in order to move to something bigger. The only question is whether they are taken – tomorrow never knows.