- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Donald Trump on Thursday sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un canceling a summit set for June 12 in Singapore. He apparently did not warn South Korea about this decision.
- Experts say this could benefit North Korea and China.
- South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Trump earlier this week to try to save the summit, has called an emergency meeting.
President Donald Trump’s Thursday decision to cancel his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems to have blindsided South Korea – and experts say this could benefit North Korea and China.
Seoul has worked hard in recent months to improve relations with Pyongyang and work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Trump earlier this week to try to save the summit, which was set for June 12 in Singapore, has called an emergency meeting.
“We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, said shortly after news broke of Trump’s decision.
The White House was said to have been inspired to pull out of the summit after a senior North Korean official referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” and threatened the US with a “nuclear showdown.”
In this context, experts say Trump arguably made the correct decision to cancel the summit – but some still criticized his lack of communication with South Korea and highlighted the potential consequences of his approach.
Trump is ‘pushing South Korea into China’s arms’
Alexander Vershbow, a fellow at the Atlantic Council who was formerly the US’s ambassador to South Korea, said Trump made a wise move.
“While ‘wise’ is not a word usually used for President Trump, it was wise to cancel the meeting in Singapore,” Vershbow said in a statement.
“It has been clear from the outset that there is no common understanding of ‘denuclearization’ between the United States and North Korea, even after two Pompeo meetings with Kim Jong Un. Nor is there any sign of agreement on the timeline, conditions, and incentives for implementation,” Vershbow added, referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Vershbow said that if Trump wanted to avoid the mistakes of previous administrations, then “much more diplomatic spadework is needed.”
Ian Bremmer, the president and founder of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider that Trump was “pushing South Korea into China’s arms.”
“Both in the way the meeting was announced and organized and now in the way it was canceled, Trump has made very clear to the South Koreans that ‘America First’ is very different from South Korea first,” Bremmer said.
Bremmer said that as a result of Trump’s approach to this issue, Seoul now has a “much better” relationship with Pyongyang than Washington does and “will be reluctant to squander it.” He added that it “works very well” for the government of China, North Korea’s top trading partner and most important ally.
“Between this, the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] pullout, and Trump’s approach to trade, the big beneficiary of Trump in Asia is Xi Jinping,” China’s president, Bremmer said.
Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, expressed similar sentiments, tweeting that Trump’s apparent lack of warning to South Korea showed “astounding disrespect for one of the closest, most steadfast allies of the US.”
“This is not just about blindsiding Moon – alliances w/ democracies depend on public support to thrive,” she added. “How are South Koreans supposed to interpret this?”
In an op-ed article for the news website Axios, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that canceling the meeting was the correct choice under the circumstances.
Haass said there was “no way” the summit would have been a success if Trump’s aim was for North Korea to agree to full denuclearization.
“Better that the summit was postponed than to have ended up in dramatic failure, which would have led some to conclude (incorrectly) that diplomacy had been tried and failed, leaving a dangerous and costly war as the only US alternative,” Haass said, adding that the cancellation highlights the Trump administration’s lack of a viable North Korea strategy.
The summit could still happen, but a lot is up in the air
Though Trump has left the door open for the summit to still occur and the tone of his letter was relatively diplomatic, it seems the US would require major concessions and assurances from North Korea to salvage the meeting.
“It’s possible that the existing summit could take place, or a summit at some later date,” Trump said Thursday. “Nobody should be anxious. We have to get it right.”
And Trump’s decision on the summit comes at a particularly shaky time in relations between Seoul and Washington, which still has no permanent ambassador to South Korea.