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What Are The Implications Of The Trump-Kim Summit?


So now the two have met. An agreement has been signed. Promises have been made. Now what? To help us answer that question, we're joined by John Delury. He's a China historian and Korea specialist at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. But he is in Singapore here with me now. John, thanks for being with us.

JOHN DELURY: Yeah, it's a pleasure.

MARTIN: The president says this is a historic comprehensive agreement that he has signed with North Korea's leader. What do you think? Is it?

DELURY: Historic, yes. Comprehensive, not so sure - especially when we look at the text. And I think it's important to focus on the text. You know, the press conference is a performance. And it can lead us down some rabbit holes. But the text, in its simplicity, it's not too beautiful. It's not very artful. But I think what the text does is it identifies a framework - a real framework that can lead to progress. And I think what you see in the text is a paradigm shift from a hostile relationship between the United States and North Korea to a friendly one.

MARTIN: But North Korea has made these exact promises before. It has reneged on those promises. So what gives you confidence that this moment is different?

DELURY: I think the key is Kim Jong Un. You know, I think that if you situate Kim Jong Un in sort of North Korean history - if you look at the differences between what he's done domestically and now, over the last six months, what we're seeing internationally - is that he does represent something very new for his country, very different from from what his father did. And, you know, I think that's the significance of him even just being here in Singapore - is that he's ready to sort of let the gates down that has kept North Korea isolated. It's kept it in hostile relations with the United States and with the world. And he seeks to change that.

MARTIN: What does the agreement mean for the region more broadly? I mean, when we think about other major players here - primarily among them South Korea, which clearly has an incredibly large stake in the outcome here.

DELURY: Yeah, the South Korean angle on this is very interesting. You know, I mean, I'm here with you in Singapore. But I've been living up there for eight years. And the sense I'm hearing from South Koreans already today is - you know, the statement of the president Moon Jae-in. You know, South Korea is fully onboard with what we're seeing, right? The South Korean government, of course, helped to spur a lot of this diplomacy. President Moon wants to see reconciliation. He wants to see dialogue. He sees an opportunity with Kim Jong Un to move things in a very different direction. And he enjoys, you know, 70-80 percent approval ratings in South Korea.

So one of the fears of what's going on is that the North Koreans are trying to sort of divide the Americans and the South Koreans - break or decouple that alliance. But paradoxically, I would argue the opposite is happening. The Trump administration and Moon government are moving, sort of shoulder to shoulder, in a diplomatic path - on a diplomatic path and taking opportunity of a new direction that Kim Jong Un is signaling he wants to go in. So this is not weakening the alliance. I think this is an opportunity for the U.S.-South Korea alliance to move in a new direction. You know, and it will have to change because it's predicated on an un-terminated war with the North Koreans.

MARTIN: Right, which still has yet to come to a conclusion even though President Trump suggested it would - as has Kim Jong Un. In the time, we have remaining - China, not officially a part of these talks clearly, but their presence looms large. What does this agreement mean for China?

DELURY: Yeah, China - the China piece is critical. It's very complex. You know, I was looking at the Shanghai Communique in 1972 that started normalization of the U.S. and China. And you look at that document. And one thing that's basically not in there is the Soviet Union. But, of course, we know that the whole logic of U.S.-China normalization was the shared threat of the Soviet Union. And I'm thinking about that today - you know, how China is not mentioned in this text. China is not coming up explicitly.

But part of what's going on is North Korea - Kim Jong Un is basically doing what everyone in this region is doing. He is finding ways to sort of counterbalance - but carefully - at this overweening influence that China has over North Korea's economy, over North Korea's sort of diplomatic position. So it's a very complex dance. I think he's actually quite sophisticated. He's not trying to defect to the American side. But I do think he's rebalancing. And so that - but he's not going to say a lot of that.

MARTIN: In a word, is the world safer today?

DELURY: The world is safer. The world is safer. But the American public has to see the positives in what's going on here in Singapore.

MARTIN: John Delury, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

DELURY: It's a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANATOLE'S "LIKE DEEP WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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