Trump’s On-Again, Off-Again Summit Style Unnerves Asian Allies

Japan has remained the most hard line of all the countries seeking to influence negotiations with North Korea, consistently calling for complete and immediate denuclearization as well as a return of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea four decades ago. Japan has also remained the most skeptical about North Korea’s motives, reminding the United States that the North has previously signed and then reneged on nuclear deals.

But casting North Korea as the bad guy may not be so straightforward in the Trump era.

“The hard-liners who define the Abe worldview will continue with this ‘Look, the North Koreans can’t be trusted,’” said Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut, who specializes in the modern history of Japan and Korea. “But in this regard, it’s the Trump administration who has pulled the plug out right now, so who can’t really be trusted right now? That’s the longer-term challenge: In the final push, the U.S. might not be there for Japan.”

Trump’s On-Again, Off-Again Summit Style Unnerves Asian Allies
Trump’s On-Again, Off-Again Summit Style Unnerves Asian Allies

In South Korea, analysts said that Mr. Moon could take advantage of the pause provided by summit’s suspension.

“This would give the U.S. allies in Asia like South Korea, though disappointed, some time to breathe and think about how to move forward,” said Kim Jae-yeop, a visiting professor of international relations at Hannam University in Daejeon City. “Maybe it will be like South Korea and the U.S. playing good cop versus bad cop when dealing with North Korea. Going forward, President Moon will have to show the United States that its ultimate goal with North Korea is not different from that of the U.S.”

But some analysts say that Mr. Trump’s waffling on the summit could make it more difficult to keep up pressure on the North to come to the negotiating table offering the full disarmament the president says he wants.

“North Korea has broken out of maximum pressure, and I don’t believe Trump can reapply it,” said Gordon Flake, chief executive of the Perth USAsia Center at the University of Western Australia. He pointed out that after the historic meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon in the border village of Panmunjom last month, South Koreans were “besotted” with Mr. Kim and would be reluctant to impose harsher sanctions.

More important, Mr. Flake said, is that China, which has now hosted two meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Xi, is less likely to enforce any sanctions. “Why would they do that now, when clearly the government and the Chinese people’s perspective is that the provocateur is Trump.”

Mr. Trump portrayed his cancellation of the summit and the possibility of resuming one as a natural part of deal making. “Everybody plays games,” he said on Friday to reporters.

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