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The biggest winner of the Trump-Kim summit is China

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In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wildest dreams, he could not have envisioned a better outcome of President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – at least as it concerns Beijing’s interests, reported The Washington Post (US).

After one day of meetings, Trump agreed to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises, doing exactly what the Chinese government proposed ahead of the summit. Trump publicly stated he wants to remove all U.S. troops from South Korea, which would be a huge strategic windfall for China. Trump acknowledged that China is busting sanctions on North Korea, but indicated there’s nothing he can do about it. And Trump legitimized the North Korean regime, beginning a long process that will keep Beijing as a key player with huge leverage on both sides.

“Trump loves to characterize things as winners and losers, and Xi Jinping appears to be the biggest winner of all after the historic Trump-Kim summit,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies.

Only a few months ago, the Beijing-Pyongyang relationship was on the rocks. But Xi and Kim have patched things up, coordinated their strategy and now – thanks to Trump – achieved their desired summit outcome. Meanwhile, Trump’s concessions risk alienating allies, undermining the U.S. strategic posture in East Asia and endorsing China’s preferred frame for the diplomacy. In fact, the “deal” that Trump and Kim agreed to in Singapore is essentially the “freeze-for-freeze” arrangement that was originally put forth by Beijing.

“Eroding trust in U.S. alliances is a key win for Xi Jinping,” Fallon said. “Beijing wanted ‘freeze for freeze’ and no joint exercises, which is exactly what Trump delivered for apparently no trade-off whatsoever. So much for art of the deal.”

Trump didn’t just pause U.S.-South Korean military exercises. He used China and North Korea’s own rhetoric to criticize the exercises, which previously the United States has defended as necessary for military readiness and deterrence.

“We will be stopping the war games,” Trump said at his Tuesday news conference. “We’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, it is very provocative,” he added.

In that same news conference, Trump public admitted he still wants to remove all U.S. troops from South Korea. Trump has been talking about that privately for years. But on Tuesday, he said he aspired to include U.S. troop reductions in future negotiations with Pyongyang.

“I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have right now 32,000 soldiers in South Korea,” Trump said. “… That’s not part of the [North Korea] equation right now. At some point, I hope it will be.”

Trump also handed Beijing a win in its drive to undermine the “maximum pressure” campaign led by the United States, South Korea and Japan. Trump not only said he would hold off imposing new sanctions on North Korea, he also admitted that China was not enforcing sanctions strictly and then shrugged it off.

“President Xi of China … has really closed up that border, maybe a little less so over the last couple of months, but that’s okay,” Trump said. “I think over the last two months, the border is more open than it was when we first started. But that is what it is,” he said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry Tuesday upped the ante by calling for sanctions relief for North Korea, to build off the goodwill from the Trump-Kim meeting. Beijing is happy to agree with Trump that the summit was a success just because it happened.

“The fact that leaders from both countries can sit together and have an equal conversation already has significant meaning. This is creating a new history, and Beijing welcomes and supports such outcome,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden told me that having a good meeting with Kim that opens up a process for future talks is a positive thing. But we should not think North Korea has agreed to anything new, and we must realize we paid a high price.

“We paid for it by giving both the appearance and the reality — through the president’s words — a sense of equivalency to one of the world’s worst dictators,” he said. “And all we got out of it was an agreement to think about agreeing sometime in the future.”

As an additional bonus for China, Trump has thrown confusion into America’s alliances with South Korea and Japan. Seoul’s Blue House spokesman said Tuesday: “At this moment, the meaning and intention of President Trump’s remarks requires more clear understanding.” The Japanese government, which has been urging Trump not to make concessions to Kim without real complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of their nuclear and missile programs, must be mortified.

Trump said he is relying on instinct and he believes Kim is serious about denuclearization, wants the economic development assistance Trump is offering and is being honest about his intention to follow through.

“I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong,” Trump said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

Blind faith in the sincerity of a North Korean dictator is not a valid basis for gutting the U.S. strategic posture in Asia, calling alliance relationships into question and lifting the pressure on North Korea. If Beijing’s strategic aim is to weaken America’s standing in its region, Trump just did a good bit of their work for them.

***

Kim Jong Un invited Donald Trump to visit North Korea during their historic summit and the US President accepted, Pyongyang state media reported on Wednesday (Jun 13), calling it the start of a "radical switchover" in the nuclear-armed Cold War foes' fraught relations, reported Channel News Asia (Singapore).

The unprecedented encounter in Singapore on Tuesday saw the leader of the world's most powerful democracy shake hands with the third generation scion of a dynastic dictatorship, standing as equals in front of their nations' flags.

Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", a stock phrase favoured by Pyongyang that stopped short of long-standing US demands for North Korea to give up its atomic arsenal in a "verifiable" and "irreversible" way.

In its first report on the landmark summit, the official KCNA news agency ran a glowing dispatch on the talks, describing them as an "epoch-making meeting" that would help foster "a radical switchover in the most hostile (North Korea)-US relations".

The report said the two men each asked the other to visit their country.
"The two top leaders gladly accepted each other's invitation," KCNA said.

Pyongyang has reason to feel confident after the meeting which was a major coup for an isolated and heavily sanctioned regime that has long craved international legitimacy.

In a blockbusting press conference after the summit, Trump said the US would halt military exercises with Seoul - something long sought by Pyongyang, which claims the drills are a rehearsal for invasion.

The US stations around 30,000 troops in security ally South Korea to protect it from its neighbour, which invaded in 1950 in an attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

"We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money," Trump told reporters, adding that "at some point" he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South.

Both Seoul and US military commanders in the South indicated they had no idea the announcement was coming, and analysts expressed immediate concern.

Ending the drills "is in excess of all expert consensus, South Korean requests, and even a close reading of North Korean demands", said Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists.

The KCNA report said Trump committed to ending the drills during his meeting with Kim.

It added that denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula would be dependent on the two sides "refraining from antagonising ... each other out of mutual understanding".

***

Iran warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday against trusting US President Donald Trump, saying he could cancel their denuclearisation agreement within hours, reported Dawn (Pakistan).

Tehran cited its own experience in offering the advice to Kim a month after Washington withdrew from a similar deal with Iran.“We don’t know what type of person the North Korean leader is negotiating with. It is not clear that he would not cancel the agreement before returning home,” Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht was quoted as saying by IRNA new agency.

Nobakht questioned Trump’s credibility. “This man does not represent the American people, and they will surely distance themselves from him at the next elections,” he said.

As well as pulling the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Trump disowned on Saturday a joint communique issued by Group of Seven leaders, just hours after he had left their summit for the meeting with Kim.

Trump has said would be open to striking a new nuclear accord with Tehran. However, he says the existing deal negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama had failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

On top of this, he also cited the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites and “sunset” clauses, under which limits on the nuclear programme start to expire after 10 years.

Trump has insisted any deal with North Korea should include irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman also advised North Korean leaders to “exercise complete vigilance” in their negotiations with the United States.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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