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Trump-Kim summit praised amid regional concern

June 13, 2018

While North Korean state media has reacted with jubilation over Kim's meeting with Trump, other East Asian countries have expressed concern over the announcement of a change in US military policy in the region.

Singapur USA Nordkorea Gipfel Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un
Image: picture-alliance/AP Images/E. Vucci

Images of the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were splashed across North Korea's official party newspaper on Wednesday, with state media describing Tuesday's summit between the two leaders as the "meeting of the century."

The ruling Workers Party official daily Rodong Sinmun published 33 pictures over four of its usual six pages. One image showed a smiling Kim shaking hands with Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton, who previously advised military action be taken against the North, which in turn has referred to him as "human scum."

Donal Trump with John Bolton, speaking at a podium.
Donald Trump with his security advisor, John BoltonImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Vucci

Upon returning to the United States, however, Trump said North Korea was no longer the most dangerous problem facing the United States and no longer posed a nuclear threat. "Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office," he added.

This dramatic about-turn was also seen in the leaders' reactions to each other. Only months ago, the pair were trading insults, such as "dotard" and "little rocket man," with Trump threatening to rain down "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on Pyongyang if it threatened the US. But after Tuesday's meeting in Singapore, Trump had nothing but praise for his North Korean counterpart, describing him as "talented" and saying they had forged a "special bond."

North Korea's official KNCA news agency was full of praise for the meeting saying it would help foster "a radical switchover in the most hostile [North Korea]-US relations." The agency also said that the two leaders each asked the other to visit their country.

"The two top leaders gladly accepted each other's invitation," KCNA said.

It asserted that Trump had "expressed his intention "to lift sanctions against the North." However, Trump said at a press conference that this would happen "when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor."

"The sanctions right now remain," he added.

Trump tweeted after the meeting that "the World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe! No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research!"

In a joint statement following the talks, Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a phrase which has been favored by Pyongyang, but which stops short of long-standing US demands for North Korea to give up its entire nuclear arsenal in a "verifiable" and "irreversible" way.

Regional reactions

World powers from China to Japan, the European Union and Russia welcomed the meeting's outcome, but it has also been pointed out that it is only a first step towards resolving the nuclear stand-off with Pyongyang.

However, Trump's surprise announcement that military drills with South Korea would be stopped has caused serious concern in the region.

"We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money," Trump announced, adding that "at some point" he wanted to withdraw US troops from South Korea. The US has around 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea and its military presence dates back to the 1950s.

Both South Korea and US military commanders said they had no idea the announcement was coming, and in an editorial Wednesday the Korea Herald said it was "worrisome."

Concern was echoed by Japan, with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera reacting to the surprise announcement by saying, "The drills and the US military stationed in South Korea play a vital role in East Asia's security.

Japan's defense minister Itsunori Onoder
Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori OnoderaImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Kitamura

"I hope to share this recognition between Japan and the US, or among Japan, US and South Korea," he told reporters.

China, on the other hand, welcomed the US decision not to hold joint military maneuvers with Seoul.

Security analysts have cautioned that reducing US military presence in East Asia could alter the regional balance of power at a time when China is engaging in a rapid military build-up.

Onodera confirmed that Japan's policy would remain unchanged after the Trump-Kim summit.

"There is no change in our policy of putting pressure" on North Korea, he said, adding that Japan wanted concrete action from the North over its nuclear and missile ambitions, as well as on the issue of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said on Wednesday that Japan would cover some of the initial costs of North Korea's denuclearization if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections were to be resumed.

cl/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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