Jun 05, 2018
Pangoal International Situation Monthly (Vol.14)
Pangoal International Situation Monthly (Vol.14)

US President Donald Trump announced on May 8th that he will sign a presidential memorandum to re-impose economic sanctions of the toughest sort on Iran. This is basically a unilateral decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal against the advice of allies like the UK, France and Germany. At the same time, the US asked EU enterprises running businesses with Iran to exit within 90 days.

The landmark deal was signed in 2015 during Obama’s presidency after eight years of hard negotiation. The highlight of the deal is for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program under international supervision in return for lifting the relevant sanctions. Five permanent member states, Germany, and Iran, all signed the deal, which was then recognized by Resolution No.2231 of the United Nations Security Council.

This exit plan is typical Trump — signing the memo without a complete policy plan. Trump even suggested that he would sign a new agreement with the Iranian government if necessary. Trump’s decision, backed by its domestic right wing and Israel, is aimed at limiting Iran’s geostrategic expansion. For this same reason, the US allies in the Middle East are not against the plan either. This is also Trump trying to contain the comeback of Russia’s influence in the Middle East by resorting to long-arm jurisdiction once again.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech immediately after to slam the US for not keeping its word and announced that, “I have ordered AEOI to go ahead with adequate preparations to resume enrichment at the industrial level without any limit.” But Rouhani also said that Iran will wait a few weeks to negotiate with its allies and other countries in support of the deal before resuming uranium enrichment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the deal is “disastrous” and the Israeli government fully supports this “bold decision” by President Trump.

Israel had released plenty of intelligence information, (acquired through undisclosed means) indicating that Iran was keeping its uranium enrichment program going before Trump announced his decision. However, much of that information had been reviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and EU countries believed that Iran had complied with the deal.

Europe and China have made it clear that they will try to keep the Iranian nuclear deal in effect, but Trump’s decision to withdraw and re-impose sanctions on Iran will inevitably complicate matters in the Middle East, increase uncertainties in international security, and add to risks of conflicts.

On May 21st, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out 12 demands to Iran in order to reach a new deal. Specifically, Iran should: declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity, stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing, including closing its heavy water reactor, provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country, end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems, release all detained US citizens, end support to Middle East "terrorist" groups, respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, end its military support for the Houthi rebels, withdraw all forces under Iran's command throughout the entirety of Syria, end support for the Taliban and other "terrorists" in Afghanistan in the region, cease harbouring senior al-Qaeda leaders, end the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps which is linked to Quds Forces’ support for terrorists, and end its threatening behavior against its neighbours. His request met with prompt rejection from the Iranian authorities.

It is unlikely that the US will reach a new deal with Iran without international support.

The national economy and people’s livelihood in Iran will surely be affected, but the country will not bow before the US. Trump has also not made it clear what he really wants from Iran.

Although America's withdrawal serves the needs of Israel for strategic security, it will further shrink America’s influence in the Middle East. As a result, Israel and Saudi Arabia will be more likely to be mired in conflicts for the Middle East issue.

The US will grow more estranged from its European allies, and its credibility of fulfilling international commitments will be further damaged. Iran will stay closer to Russia and China, and Russia will be better motivated to dominate the war in Syria together with Turkey and Iran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif lost no time in visiting China, Russia, and other European countries in mid-May. In his talks with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he said that Iran highly values the long-established friendship with China and is willing to cooperate with China in promoting connectivity and infrastructure construction under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Zarif appreciated China for fully supporting the deal and said that Iran was willing to talk and coordinate with all parties that back the deal. Iran believes that it is the common responsibility and obligation for all relevant parties to ensure that the deal be implemented in a sustainable, comprehensive, effective manner, and Iran will make every effort to make that a reality.

As the international oil price continues to grow, the ensuing geo-economic and political effect will better enable Russia to contend with the US on the Middle East issue as well as others.

Trump’s move also makes it more difficult for the US to negotiate with North Korea on nuclear issues, and the slightly improved situation in the peninsula might be affected.

Iran may have five options to respond to the US’s withdrawal: First, stick to the deal and enhance coordination with Europe, Russia and China in order to minimize the impact of economic sanctions re-imposed by the US. But this might arouse opposition from the Iranian hardliners.

Second, provoke regional conflicts with its special influence. For example, exacerbate the security situation in Yemen, Syria, or even Iraq and Afghanistan, so as to crowd the US’s strategic interests out of the Middle East. However, this might suffer a head-on blow from Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Third, restrict the IAEA in its inspection on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and moderately expand uranium production and nuclear R&D activities.

Fourth, resume nuclear activities to a moderate degree; Fifth, fully resume nuclear activities. Unfortunately, the last three options might cost Iran international sympathy to various extents, and even put it at odds with the entire international community. Therefore, as long as the nuclear deal could struggle to last without the US, Iran should not resume its nuclear activities, whether in part or in full.

After the Third Plenary Meeting of the Seventh WPK Central Committee proposed to discontinue nuclear tests and focus on economic development on April 20th, and the two Korean heads signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula on April 27th, North Korea, and the US have accelerated the preparation for a meeting between the two heads of state. As the situation on the Korean Peninsula approaches a historical turn, China’s role becomes increasingly prominent.

From May 7th to May 8th, Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea flew to Dalian and met again with Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese President. When talking about the Korean Peninsula situation, President Xi noted that “China supports the DPRK in adhering to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and supports the DPRK and the United States in solving the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue and consultation. The Chinese side is willing to continuously work together with all relevant parties to play a positive role in comprehensively promoting the process of peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue, and in realizing lasting peace and stability in the region.”

Kim Jong-un thanked China for its long-term and important contributions to realizing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and safeguarding regional peace and stability. Kim Jong-un expressed that denuclearization of the Peninsula has been a consistent and clear stance of North Korea. As long as relevant parties abolish their hostile policies and remove security threats against North Korea, there is no need for it to be a nuclear state and denuclearization can then be realized. Kim Jong-un hopes that North Korea and the US will establish mutual trust through dialogue and that all relevant parties will take phased and synchronous measures in a responsible manner to comprehensively advance the political settlement process of the Korean Peninsula issue, and eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

On May 8th, President Xi talked over the phone with US President Trump at the latter’s request, and they exchanged views on the Korean Peninsula situation. Xi Jinping stressed that China supports a leaders’ meeting between the US and North Korea. It is hoped that the US and North Korea will meet each other halfway, establish mutual trust, take phased actions, address respective concerns through meetings and negotiation, and consider the reasonable security concerns of North Korea so as to jointly promote the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue. Trump expressed that the US attaches great importance to China’s position on the Korean Peninsula issue and appreciates the important role China has played. The US is willing to strengthen its communication and coordination with China to jointly promote the settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue through negotiation and consultation.

On May 9th, Mike Pompeo, the Senate House’s newly-appointed US Secretary of State, on a mission to smooth preparations for the approaching summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, visited North Korea once again. According to press reports, in their meeting, Pompeo and Kim Jong-un talked about North Korea’s framework for denuclearization. South Korean news outlet The Dong-A Ilbo reported that, as a condition for lifting sanctions and establishing security mechanisms, the US requires North Korea to transport most nuclear weapons and missiles to neutralized states out of the Korean Peninsula and abandon them under the international community’s supervision. Pompeo reiterated that the US would not repeat mistakes of the past, which he described as lifting sanctions on North Korea before attaining the goal. He returned with three US citizens, namely Kim Hak Song, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Dong-chul. They had been detained in North Korea for “espionage” or “hostile acts.”

On May 10th, Trump tweeted that, “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong-un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!”

On May 11th, after talks with the South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, US Secretary of State Pompeo officially stated that “If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends.” The two foreign ministers stressed that the two administrations should have a consensus on realizing “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

On May 12th, North Korea announced the dismantling of Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site at Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province and invited press from South Korea, the US, the UK, China, and Russia to cover the event on site. If things could go down this positive way, on the premise of a unified definition of denuclearization, there’d be much to accomplish at the summit. The “roadmap” is likely to be: Firstly, North Korea verifiably stops advancing its nuclear missile tests, the US and North Korea give each other security promises, and each specifies the roadmap and timetable of abandoning nuclear programs or signing security guarantee treaties of some kind. Secondly, as North Korea commenced dismantling and transporting out its nuclear missile facilities and materials under international supervision, the two sides introduced third-party guarantee of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament process, bilateral assistance, and the gradual easing of the UN Security Council’s sanctions. Thirdly, the multilateral talks will be resumed, relevant parties of the Korean Peninsula issue conclude a treaty of peace, North Korea, and the US sign a letter of intent to establish diplomatic ties or even a non-aggression pact and set up representative offices in each other’s country. Fourthly, the replacement of the Korean armistice with a peace agreement and the normalization of diplomatic ties among all countries concerned will be completed.

However, since May 16th, the situation took a sudden turn for the worse. North Korea suddenly and unilaterally announced the cancelation of the scheduled high-level talks with South Korea over the ongoing aggressive US-South Korea joint military exercises. “If the U.S is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” as noted Kim Kye Gwan, the North Korean first vice minister of foreign affairs.

Taking it all into consideration, the true reason of North Korea’s resumption of its hard stance, rather than the joint military exercise, is that the US was asking too much for its nuclear disarmament. The US seems to be forcing the Kim administration to denuclearize in a “Libyan Model”, the essence of which is “disarmament first, and compensation afterward.” Besides, the US requires North Korea to not only transport most nuclear weapons, materials and relevant files to third-party neutral states, abandon and dismantle them under the international community’s supervision, but also hand over their medium- and long-range missiles and chemical weapons, and migrate the 100-200 nuclear experts forever abroad. The timetable proposed is also demanding—perhaps before 2020—North Korea must advance denuclearization substantively during the tenancy of Trump.

Nevertheless, North Korea insists that the two sides take “phased and synchronous” measures on dismantling nuclear facilities and providing corresponding international assistance and compensation, which is supposed to include both bilateral assistance from such countries as China, South Korea, and Japan amidst North Korea’s denuclearization and the gradual easing of international sanctions.

According to the US press, inside the Trump administration, the “hardliners” are represented by John Bolton, National Security Advisor of the US, and the “soft-liners” represented by State Department officials. The former insists on using the “Libya model”, calling for “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oak Ridge, Tennessee” (referring to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the dismantled Libyan nuclear facilities were transported to); while the latter agrees on considering the “phased and synchronous” principle.

On May 8th, Trump announced he’d sign an executive order to reimpose the highest level of economic sanctions on Iran, which actually meant that the US would exit the Iran deal unilaterally. This news threw the Kim administration into greater panic and confusion, and thus clouded preparations for the North Korea–United States summit.

If the two visits of Secretary Pompeo to North Korea have set up the framework of the consensus supposed to be reached at the North Korea-US summit, the specific ways of nuclear disarmament and compensation might have stalled preliminary negotiations. In this regard, the mutual trust between North Korea and the US is virtually nonexistent. On one hand, North Korea worries that the US might renege on previous promises and turn North Korea into another Libya once it surrenders nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in one lump, on the other hand, the US refuses to repeat on the principle of synchronous, coordinated, commitment for commitment, and action for action it undertook in the Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks on September 19th, 2005, worrying that North Korea might take advantage of certain principles, resort to stalling tactics, and stealthily launch new nuclear missile programs after receiving economic benefits and sanction relief.

On May 17th, seemingly to ease discontent of Pyongyang, Trump told the press at the White House that “The Libya model isn’t a model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea. We decimated that country. We never said to Gaddafi, ‘Oh, we’re going to give you protection.’ The Libya model was a much different model. This with Kim Jong-un would be something where he would be there. He would be running his country. His country would be very rich. His people are tremendously industrious.”

Almost at the same time, at the request of South Korea, the US canceled its plan to participate in the South Korea-US Max Thunder air force drill with B-52 strategic bombers.

On May 19th, South Korea tried to send through the Panmunjom communication channel a list of eight South Korean reporters to cover the dismantlement of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site on site but was disregarded by North Korea. However, three days later when reporters of other countries had arrived in North Korea by special planes, the permission was released.

Speaking in a May 21st interview on Fox News, US Vice-President Pence remarked that North Korea might end like Libya, the military option for North Korea never came off the table, the US needs complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, and so on.

On May 23rd, US Secretary Pompeo met with China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi who made a stop-over in Washington D.C. on his way back from Latin America. In the post-meeting press conference, Pompeo noted that “We talked about preparations for the President’s June 12th meeting with Kim Jong-un. I had a chance to hear China’s perspective” … “We discussed our firm commitment to maintain pressure on North Korea and to continue fully enforcing all relevant UN Security Council resolutions related to North Korea until we see and achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” … “China, the United States, the South Koreans, Japan – we are all fully committed to a bright future for the DPRK if Pyongyang is willing to denuclearize. Until that time arrives, the pressure will continue.”

The next day, North Korea’s vice-foreign minister Choe Son Hui expressed her surprise at Pence’s remarks and commented that North Korea has never asked for dialogues with the US and would never beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade if it does not want to sit down. She also warned that her country would reconsider the planned summit with the US if its officials keep making such remarks.

Also, on May 24th, witnessed by reporters from various countries, after more than five hours of operation, tunnels in the north, west, and south of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, as well as military barracks and other ground facilities, were demolished with a heavy boom. North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA reported that North Korea has fully destroyed the test site, “completely closed the tunnel entrances”, and “ensured the transparency of discontinuance of nuclear tests.” A reporter invited by North Korea to cover the event from Russia Today noted that the North Korean officials on site explained that two of the destroyed tunnels were new ones originally designed for tests in the near future. He also noted that the buildings had been emptied before being demolished.

Later that day, the White House released an autographed open letter of Donald Trump to Kim Jong-un. The letter said that “The meeting was requested by North Korea... I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.” “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Nevertheless, Trump still spoke highly of Kim Jong-un’s decision to release the American detainees. He also noted that “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea, in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”

Speaking later to the press at the White House, Trump called Kim’s decision to cancel the summit “a tremendous setback for North Korea, and indeed a setback for the world”. Japan and South Korea are ready to respond with the US to any “foolish and reckless acts” by North Korea. “That bright and beautiful future can only happen when the threat of nuclear weapons is removed. No way can it happen otherwise.” If and when Kim Jong-un chooses to engage in constructive actions, and do what is right for his people, the US will be waiting. In the meantime, the administration’s maximum pressure campaign will continue. “Hopefully, positive things will be taking place with respect to the future of North Korea... A lot of things can happen, including the fact that, perhaps — and would wait — it’s possible that the existing summit could take place or a summit at some later date…We have to get it right.”

Soon after, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan said that “The US side’s unilateral announcement of the cancellation of the summit makes us think over if we were truly right to have made efforts for it and to have opted for the new path.” North Korea is determined to end the relations of hostility and distrust with the US that have lasted for decades and to build a new landmark for the improvement of the bilateral relations, which has commanded unanimous sympathy and support from the public at home and abroad. Inwardly, North Korea highly appreciated Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other US presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit. However, his sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected and regrettable. This is, as Kim Kye-gwan puts it, “a vivid expression of the severity of the present status of the hostile North Korea-US relations of long historical roots and the urgent necessity for the summit meeting for the improvement of the ties.” He also noted that North Korea’s commitment to doing the best for the sake of peace and stability for the world and the Korean Peninsula remains unchanged, and the country is open-minded in giving time and opportunity to the US.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting on national security around midnight that day. In the statement released later on, he said that Trump’s canceling of the North Korea-US summit was “disconcerting and very regrettable,” and hoped that “this will be resolved through closer and more direct dialogue between leaders.” “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace are historical tasks that can neither be abandoned nor delayed. The sincerity of the parties who have striven to resolve those problems remains unchanged. But it is not feasible to resolve sensitive and difficult foreign policy issues through the current method of communication.” Dialogues would be necessary.

On May 25th EST, during the background briefing to reporters, a White House official said that it’s North Korea who turned away from its promises and emphasized on its nuclear capacity. Last week, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations, Joe Hagin, led a delegation to Singapore to meet with North Korea officials. They waited for three days but were unexpectedly stood up. Even so, President Trump is still hoping for communication.

In less than a day, the “window of opportunity” was opened again. Before heading to Annapolis, Trump told the reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that Capitol Hill had restored its connection with North Korea, and they might make preparations to reschedule the summit, possibly still on June 12th. “We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it; we’d like to do it. Let's see what'll happen,” he said.

According to international opinions and analysis, Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the summit demonstrates that both the US and North Korea have some misunderstandings of each other's stance on denuclearization and such misunderstandings cannot be diffused in a short time, nevertheless, no matter if it’s the US’s statement or North Korea’s response, the rhetoric is mild and allows for some leeway, showing that the window of opportunity is still open, and the situation is expected to change for the better. The Singapore-based news press Lianhe Zaobao cited remarks of Bilahari Kausikan, Secretary of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Fang, Director for security and global affairs at Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and Zhang Jiasong, Associate Professor from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University stating that, by releasing three US hostages and dismantling the nuclear test site, North Korea was acting high-profile for reconciliation. So to speak, the Kim administration didn’t anticipate the abrupt cancellation. The Trump-Kim summit represents an important achievement of Donald Trump in his tenancy as the US President. He personally also desires for such a meeting. Given Trump’s style in handling international affairs, the stringent sanctions the world imposes on North Korea, and the determination of South Korean leadership in making breakthroughs based on the inter-Korean summit, sooner or later the summit will be held. Let alone the fact that the cancellation is a unilateral decision of the US. As some see it, this perhaps is not the final say; the two leaders might take a sharp turn as soon as next week.

Soon after his previous statement mentioned above, Trump said in a Twitter post that, “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”

According to Sputnik’s news releases on May 25th, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan replied to an inquiry on this issue at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “The problem happened yesterday, as I see it, it’s only a brief interlude. According to the news via TV and newspapers, both the US President’s remarks and the North Korean leader’s responses allow some leeway for a potential turning-back. The top-level meeting between the two sides is of great importance. Though there is an interlude, I prefer to believe that nothing good comes easily. We should be confident that the problem will ultimately be solved.”“The Korean Peninsula issue concerns the vital interests of China. China upholds peace and stability on the Peninsula. The war or turmoil is the last thing we want to see. To refrain from wars and truculence, the Peninsula must be denuclearized. China stays committed to this goal.”

On the same day, Sputnik cited opinions of Chinese experts and stated that to make breakthroughs in the Korean Peninsula issue in the near future, three factors count. First is whether the structural changes of international system pivoting on Northeast Asia can foster a favorable climate for the Trump-Kim summit. In general, all great powers, the US included, have expressed their willingness to solve the denuclearization problem through high-level peaceful talks, and Northeast Asia as a whole is leaning towards reconciliation. Second is whether the North Korea-US talks can be resumed or even generate satisfactory results still depends on whether the two sides can establish mutual trust in strategic terms. The third fact is that the political characteristics of the two leaders have influences on the situation development of the Korean Peninsula.

Anyhow, the cancellation of the summit makes neighboring countries on the Korean Peninsula realize that the road to denuclearization, as intricate and arduous as it is, certainly will not be rosy all the way. All parties relevant need to sit down and have some good talks.

On May 26th, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a surprise meeting for two hours from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Tongilgak on the northern side of Panmunjom, the second time they had met since April 27th.

The next day, Moon Jae-in met with the press and disclosed that it’s Kim Jong-un who conveyed the wish to meet in the afternoon of May 25th, and he readily agreed. With regard to their talks, Moon Jae-in remarked that Kim expressed his willingness to put an end to the history of war and confrontation through the success of the North Korea-US summit. The two leaders shared a common understanding that the North Korea-US summit should be held on June 12th in a successful manner and agreed to closely work together to this end. They also reconfirmed that the journey for denuclearization and the establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula must not stop under any circumstances. Once again, Kim made clear his unbreakable determination to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. For Kim, the determination to denuclearization is undoubted. However, according to Moon, Kim also said he was unsure whether he could trust the US over its promise to end hostile policies against North Korea and provide security assurances if the country does abandon its nuclear weapons.

According to reports from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-un thanked Moon Jae-in for the great effort he made for the North Korea-US summit scheduled on June 12th and expressed his firm will on the historic North Korea-US summit talks. Kim suggested that the two sides continue with positive cooperation, so as to improve the North Korea-US relations and establish a mechanism for permanent and durable peace. Kim and Moon reached a satisfactory consensus on all matters discussed.

On May 27th, news from Seoul has it that the US Ambassador to the Philippines and former US Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim, together with a delegation of White House experts on North Korean affairs and national defense officials, crossed the demarcation line to the north side. According to Thomas Reuters, a US working group has set out for Singapore to prepare for the summit likely to be held in the country. The group was comprised of a total of 30 officials working at the White House or State Council. The pre-advance team includes White House deputy chief of staff of operations Joe Hagin and the President's deputy national security advisor Ricardel. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has confirmed the news.

From May 30th to May 31st, the Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited North Korea. In his meeting with Kim Jong-un, Lavrov noted that, Russia is interested in peace, stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Northeast Asia, enthusiastically supportive of the Panmunjom Declaration signed with South Korea, and ready to assist in its implementation. Besides, Lavrov expressed the wish to welcome Kim Jong-un in Russia. During talks with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yonh-ho, Lavrov remarked that, there's no quick fix for the Korean Peninsula issue, and the North Korean nuclear issue will never be thoroughly solved unless the US lifts sanctions over North Korea. Russia is ready to promote the several trilateral cooperation programs laid down earlier with the two Koreas, including the joint construction of railways, gas pipelines and electronic infrastructure linking the three countries.

On May 9th, good news came from the long-trapped region of Northeast Asia: the 7th Trilateral Summit Meeting of Japan, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea was held in Tokyo. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, President Moon Jae-in of Korea, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan released a joint declaration to reiterate their commitment, thus deepening and expanding trilateral cooperation, and responses to regional and global challenges.

In the joint declaration, the three sides committed to liberalizing the economies, fighting all forms of protectionism, and reaffirmed to making greater efforts to accelerate negotiations on the Trilateral Free Trade Agreement. The aim of this agreement is to realize a comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial FTA with its own value, and push the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) towards a swift conclusion in which significant progress on market access and rules is necessary.

The three sides also decided to pursue trilateral dialogue and consultation in order to enhance regional connectivity and infrastructure cooperation to benefit the East Asia region as a whole, and to continue a high degree of communication and coordination to cope with possible financial instability.

They also recognized the importance of trilateral collaboration and political consultation in customs, transport, intellectual property, sports, tourism, culture, consular affairs, public diplomacy, health services, aging, agriculture, trans-boundary animal diseases, forestry, biodiversity, disaster risk reduction, countering cybercrime, terrorism, and violent extremism.

The abundance of the summit's outcomes is far beyond external expectations. Two important factors are behind this: first, under the connected effects of an improved relationship between North and South Korea and the resumption of talks between North Korea and the US, the cooperation among Northeast Asian countries is gaining new momentum; secondly, China and Japan are steadily improving bilateral relations, and the Abe administration needs more support from the Chinese side in promoting sound economic development and strengthening financial governance.

On May 4th, Chinese President Xi Jinping held telephone talks at request with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Xi Jinping pointed out that for a period of time, Japan has constantly released positive information on its relations with China and taken positive measures. China expresses affirmation in this regard. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and China-Japan relations are at a crucial juncture of inheriting the past and ushering the future. Both sides should review the spirit of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship, live up to their commitments, act according to the rules and well manage contradictions and differences, so as to ensure that China-Japan relations return to the right track and achieve new progress. Shinzo Abe said that Japan attaches great importance to developing its relations with China. Japan stands ready to take the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship as an opportunity to push forward bilateral relations for comprehensive improvement and development.

On May 11th, when seeing Premier Li Keqiang off at New Chitose Airport, Abe said that, “Starting today, the bilateral relations have turned from competition into the era of coordination.”

What’s more, during the meeting in Dalian, President Xi pointed out that the Third Plenary Meeting of the Seventh WPK Central Committee put forward a strategic line of concentrating all efforts of the whole Party and the country on socialist economic construction, and announced to discontinue nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile test-fire and dismantle its northern nuclear test ground, which shows the great importance Comrade Chairman has attached to developing economy and improving people's livelihood and the resolute determination to safeguard regional peace and stability. China appreciates such gestures and supports the DPRK in shifting its strategic focus to economic construction and supports the DPRK comrades in taking a development path suitable to their own national conditions.

The security environment of Northeast Asian directly hinges on the economic development and livelihood improvement of China, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. Nevertheless, due to the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the unfavorable regional security environment featuring a Korean confrontation, and increasingly strained China-Japan and Korea-Japan relations, the regional cooperation has been empty talks for quite a few years. Now, as the North-Korea relations rapidly improve, and the tension over North Korean nuclear issue shows a sign of easing, the full resumption of cooperation among Northeast Asian countries will soon be put on the agenda. Externally, the trade protectionist policies upheld by the Trump administration also propel the Northeast Asian countries to enhance multilateral economic and trade coordination.

Countries including China, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia, boast of advantages in terms of manufacturing, infrastructure construction, energy resources, agriculture, animal husbandry, telecommunication, financial management, consumption market, and port connectivity, and are fully capable of cultivating tremendous impetus for economic growth from within by initiating regional cooperation.

For China, the time of playing some “leading” role in promoting and deepening the Northeast Asia regional cooperation has come. In the background where China-North Korea relations are fully on-track, China-Japan relations gradually improve, China-Japan-South Korea cooperation continuously deepens, the Belt and Road Initiative constantly moves forward, and the development of the Arctic shipping routes keeps pushing on.  It’s essential that China seizes these opportunities, and keenly follows the actual needs of strategies for the revitalization of Northeast China and coordinated development of the Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei region, so as to fully leverage its distinct advantages in production, construction and markets. In this way, substantial achievements are expected to be made in connecting the economic arteries of Northeast Asia and building a community with a shared future for Northeast Asian countries.

On May 9th, Malaysia held its 14th general election, in which the opposition party led by the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad earned 116 seats and won the election by surpassing the threshold of 112. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) at the core, led by Najib Razak, Mahathir’s one-time protege and the country’s former Prime Minister, secured only 79 seats, and lost its ruling status that has been kept since 1957. Mahathir was sworn in on May 10th by the constitutional ruler as the country’s seventh Prime Minister, once again bringing Malaysia into the Mahathir era.

There are mainly two causes for the political change with the opposition claiming victory. First, the long-ruling UMNO continues with the “Malays first” policy, but little progress has been made in promoting economic growth and infrastructure construction, or in improving education, health care, political systems and human rights. In 2015 when a US press reported a corruption case about “a Malaysian limited company”, Najib was suspected of corruption amounting to 700 million USD, which aroused wide public indignation.

Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir faded from the political arena since 2004 and exited UMNO later due to dissatisfaction with his successors Abdullah Badawi and Najib. He then established the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and joined the opposition coalition, exerting a huge impact on the ruling status of UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

Since his resumption of office, Mahathir’s top priority is to grow the economy, contain the rapid increase of national living cost, and clean up corruption cases over the past few years. In an announcement made by Mahathir on May 14th, he appointed a new official to be in charge of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), put the attorney-general, (who used to exonerate Najib) on leave, removed the secretary-general of the Ministry of Finance from his post, and prevented Najib and his family from leaving the country. He also said an official investigation was to be launched soon.

Advanced in years, Mahathir will in fact be a transitional figure. He said that after one or two years he’ll give way to a chosen successor. On May 16th, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar was released ahead of schedule, following a pardon order from the King, who also canceled the law which forbids people from taking on public posts within five years after their release from prison. This removes all obstacles on Anwar’s way back to the political stage. It remains unclear whether Mahathir is going to pass on his power to his former protege and then enemy, Anwar, or to his son Mukhriz, Deputy President of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

However, since no party won simple majority in the election, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein (cousin of Najib, Minister of Defence, Acting Minister of Transport, and Deputy President of UMNO) could pull off a re-rise of UMNO.

Mahathir has made significant contribution to the development China-Malaysia relations and supports the idea of “Asia for Asians”. However, at the same time he is also a nationalist on guard against economic globalization used to impose stringent financial control when leading the national fight against the Asian financial crisis. During the election, he made some negative comments about China, blaming the ruling party for “selling our nation to China”. He also promised to review Chinese investments in Malaysia and resume negotiations over the South China Sea issue after the election. But he also expressively supports the Belt and Road Initiative.

China-Malaysia relations are expected to maintain sound development in the future. But we should always be aware of the possibility of economic frictions considering the return of national protectionism and economic nationalism in parts of the world, as well as the fact that reverse globalization is turning universal.

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