Much has already been decided in the best way for peace on the Korean peninsula and, indirectly, in the South Pacific region and even for the US power projection onto Asia.
In fact, after almost five years since the proclamation of his byungjin policy in March 2013, Kim Jong Un has announced “a new strategic policy line”.
It is worth recalling that, in Kim Jong Un’s thought, byungjin is the parallel development of the economy and military and strategic research and supremacy.
I make no secret of the fact that – as stated by the North Korea’s leadership in a letter sent to me – much has been done by me, who has tried to analyze the issue of North Korean nuclear and missile systems with the help of my long-standing friendship for North Korea and of the trust I have gained there over many years – trust that also many US friends have ensured to me.
However, I owe much to the free and friendly discussions I had on all the most important political and strategic issues with Kim Yong-Nam, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea – an extraordinary figure who was also North Korean Foreign Minister from 1983 to 1998, the year in which he was appointed to his current post.
Kim Yong Nam was, inter alia, the promoter of many North Korea’s openings to Africa – new strategic spaces that will be essential also in the upcoming talks between North Korea and the United States.
It is certainly not by mere coincidence that Kim Yong-Nam was present at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics. He is particularly trusted by the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, and national security – and hence North Korea’s positioning in the world – is currently the most important issue for the country.
If the byungjin policy “has been successful” – as Kim Jong-Un has recently stated – this is also due to the policy line that the North Korean leader has put in place since the beginning of his power, in 2012: reducing internal bureaucracy; renewing the country’s positioning in the world; making the most of the strategic threat of nuclear missiles to later achieve the eminently peaceful, political and economic goals of his policy “line”.
The core of the current “turning point” in North Korea’s policy line lies in Kim Jong-Un’s latest (and first) visit to China.
The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, wanted to know whether, pending a future meeting – already scheduled – between Kim Jong-Un and US President Trump, either of them could make improper moves that could create the conditions for a future war – something that China absolutely wants to avoid.
Therefore Kim Jong-Un reassured the Chinese President that North Korea wanted to negotiate in good faith, with a view to achieving a new equilibrium in the whole South Asian ocean region.
China also wanted to check whether Kim Jong-Un’s moves against the United States were only a way to play for time or rather a real willingness to negotiate.
If this had not happened, China would have moved its pawns directly in the United States.
In this regard, however, Kim Jong-Un provided every credible guarantee.
Moreover, China wants North Korea’s greater bilateral openness with it – a North Korea which, over the last few years, has slowly put an end to its traditional links with the Chinese Communism of the “Four Modernizations” and beyond.
Xi Jinping’s guarantee helped also the United States to understand that the negotiations were realistic and that there was no danger of imminent war on the Korean peninsula – a military confrontation that China would have avoided anyway, for better or worse.
On the other hand, Kim Jong-Un has always pointed out – also to President Xi Jinping in his first, but not last trip to China – that he believed President Trump’s threats were fully credible and that any US attack on North Korea would create tough reactions in China.
China does not want to have military borders with the United States and also believes that the presence of North American forces in South Korea is also aimed at the containment of Communist China.
This is the strategic usefulness of North Korea for China, but this also applies to Russia.
In both cases, Russia and China would be greatly damaged by any military operation entailing confrontation with the North Korean forces – a clash which would inevitably enlarge to the Russian and Chinese borders with South Korea.
Kim Jong-Un has used his strategic position with great intelligence.
Moreover, the United States cannot really wage war against North Korea: 85% of North Korean nuclear facilities are less than 100 kilometers from the border with China and the latter has already deployed at least 160,000 soldiers in its border area with North Korea, who can move quickly to the clash region.
Hence any war between China and the United States on the Korean peninsula depends on whether the United States really wants to knock China out – and this would be a suicidal move for the United States.
This is the reason why China has always thought that the two countries, namely North Korea and the United States, should have started dealing with each other long time ago.
Even with the bilateral mechanism alone.
This is also the reason why the news of bilateral talks between Kim Jong-Un and President Trump was the best thing that China could expect.
Hence, over and above full autonomy for both countries, China would also like to sit at the negotiating table to prevent either country from harming Chinese interest or making bilateral peace at China’s expense.
Whatever the outcome of the talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un will be, if it does not harm China’s direct interest in the region, it will be welcome for China which will anyway have time to make this US Presidency come to an end and clarify the future balance of power in the region – balance that no future US President will later be in a position to undermine.
We also imagine that China has already prepared military plans if President Trump or even Kim Jong-Un (albeit this is far less likely) did not fulfil their obligations, thus creating tension or even a “limited war” on the Korean peninsula.
It is easy to think that President Xi Jinping has already prepared plans to control the region on his own, without the support of either of the two countries, namely the United States and North Korea.
It is precisely the new linkage between Kim Jong-Un and Xi Jinping that has set the pace for the future peace talks.
“The issue of denuclearization can be resolved if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill and create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking coordinated, progressive and synchronized measures to achieve peace”.
It is a statement made by Kim Jong-Un, as reported by the New China News Agency.
Currently North Korea wants to make it clear to the United States and to the rest of the West that it wants only one thing: the slackening of the joint US and South Korean pressure on the country, as well as the start of credible economic development or its full involvement in the regional globalization of Southeast Asia.
In fact, this was the dual purpose of North Korea’s nuclear and missile systems: to pose such a vast threat as to make North Korea find itself more in the spotlight and no longer remain in the twilight zone of the old Cold War, thus enabling it to hold tough and definitive negotiations – almost on an equal footing – leading to strategic autonomy and economic internationalization.
With specific reference to Japan, it is both tempted by the new phase and suspicious of the future negotiations between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un.
On the one hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants President Trump not to neglect – in the negotiations with Kim Jong-Un – the issue of short- and intermediate-range missiles, which can easily hit Japan.
In fact, in spite of Japan, new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had recently made it clear that the talks between North Korea and the United States would be focused only on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Moreover, in the future bilateral talks, Shinzo Abe wants the United States to raise the long-disputed issue of the Japanese citizens allegedly “kidnapped” by North Korea.
It is an always fundamental issue for Japanese propaganda, but central to Shinzo Abe’s career.
Therefore, instead of asking for a place at the negotiating table, Japan delegates the United States.
We do not believe this is a forward-looking policy.
If peace with North Korea were finally achieved, this could also have positive results for Shinzo Abe.
President Trump has promised to Japan he will do everything for achieving North Korea’s full denuclearization and for eliminating all weapons of mass destruction still existing in the Pyongyang area, as well as for improving the “strategic triangle” between South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Kim Jong-Un, however, will always deal on a very broad basis of topics, ranging from missile engines to carriers, from nuclear devices to chemical and bacteriological weapons.
A wide range of issues that Kim Jong-Un will tackle with the United States for as long as it takes, considering that the missiles themselves attracted the attention of the United States and its regional allies to hold effective negotiations that would have never taken place without weapons of mass destruction and ballistic launches.
In that case North Korea would have been a sort of irrelevant maritime Tibet, without strategic clout, without autonomy and even without the ability to hold serious talks with “friendly” States, namely China, Iran and the Russian Federation.
Hence the political usefulness of North Korea’s nuclear and missile system has been very high.
In fact, it is the level of political and military autonomy that will allow future negotiations with President Trump – probably not on an equal footing, but at least with similar strategic potentials and with a fully credible US attack-reaction capacity.
It was exactly what Kim Jong-Un had been looking for years, so as to make the best use of his military system, with a view to getting out of his currently-closed economy and enable North Korea to experience positive economic globalization, not linked to the dollar and regional raw materials cycles.
It was the Russian Federation that officially informed the United States of Kim Jong-Un’ readiness to deal with it, although Russia is currently not so optimistic about the results of future talks between Kim Jong-Un and President Trump.
Firstly, the Russian Federation views the sanctions against North Korea – never approved by the UN Security Council – as serious obstacles to peace and as US illegal actions.
Moreover, Russia believes that North Korea’s nuclear and missile military system has a fully defensive nature and is mainly designed to avoid a regime change in North Korea itself, obviously sponsored by the United States and implemented starting from South Korea, which would also bear the most severe brunt.
Once again Russia is not fully convinced that the United States is credible, given its choice to continue military exercises with South Korea after a brief temporary stop during the Peyongchang Winter Olympics.
In fact, in an official statement made on March 3 last, the North Korean government announced it would respond militarily to new joint exercises between South Korea and the United States.
Furthermore, if the peace talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un failed, the Russian Federation would create a multilateral network that should improve North Korea’ security and encourage less brutal negotiations by the United States.
For Iran the issue of North Korea-US bilateral talks is even more complex. In fact, while Iran had no official reaction when, on March 8 last, the White House announced it had accepted Kim Jong-Un’s invitation to hold new bilateral talks, it is mainly interested in the new configuration – if any – of the JCPOA, i.e. the Treaty on nuclear weapons and their production in the Shi’ite Islamic Republic.
In fact, Iran fears that if the North Korean negotiations go well for Trump, the US President could have many incentives not to renew the JCPOA.
Moreover, if the American strategy keeps on defining the axis between Iran, North Korea and Iraq as the “axis of evil”, Iran fears that peace with North Korea will make the US hawks’ attention focus only on Iran.
Hence the skepticism of the Iranian leaders, who do not believe that a “revanchist” US President and America First can really reach a true agreement with North Korea.
Iran wants the maximum opening of negotiations for the reduction of North Korea’s military, nuclear and missile potential with China, the Russian Federation, Japan and the European Union.
Certainly multilateral negotiations would be such as to guarantee everyone from the beginning, but we believe that success in the relations between the United States alone and Kim Jong Un’s new policy line, will open up stable prospects for redesigning the whole Pacific region.
Moreover, we believe that never more than now Kim Jong-Un is both realistic and sincere in his willingness to negotiate with the United States.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France