North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has allegedly agreed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at the Singapore Summit where he met with US President Donald Trump. Presumably, this agreement would meet the primary concerns of the US and its allies. It would also help meet the interests of North Korea and its primary ally, China, by halting a Korean and US nuclear buildup. Kim has agreed to immediately freeze its nuclear program as long as the US halts what Pyongyang views as provocative military exercises, which is necessary and proper when engaging in good-faith negotiations. Trump has also said he would be willing to ease sanctions as negotiations progress, which is probably a bit too generous and empowering. Verification and the exact meaning of a “nuclear free Korean Peninsula” will be fiercely debated, if negotiations move forward, but President Trump has managed to add momentum to a longstanding stalemate.
Outside of biased political and geopolitical grumblings, the Singapore Summit yielded the potential of success in the future. Success, which must be measured by the outcome of any agreement, means an actual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Beyond that, it requires a peace agreement to end the Korean War, normalized diplomatic relations between all conflicting nations, and an opening of North Korea to the world. Without these things, the nuclear threat will continue to loom. Nuclear arsenals can, after all, always be rebuilt and redeployed. For Pyongyang, the path forward will be a difficult one, because opening itself to the world and assimilating into the International Community will subject the North Korean People to the influence of the outside world. As an oppressive totalitarian government, the Kim regime would be risking its very collapse by opening itself to the world. Absent that, however, the trust needed to accomplish denuclearization is likely to be in short supply.
With that in mind, a potential North Korean Nuclear Deal has far greater implications than the disarmament of a major threat to Asia. Asia is the crossroads of empires. There is, of course, the American Empire. As US power is predicated on the strength of its alliances, the American Empire must address the North Korean threat. By resolving the nuclear threat associated with North Korean and forging a potential path toward peace with Pyongyang, the US is changing the dynamics of its power. Ultimately, peace with the North means the US has to face the possible need to withdraw its forces from the Korean Peninsula. This should mean a dramatic shift in the concentration and focus of US power in Asia. Alternatively, the preservation of US forces in South Korea would make the containment of China the primary objective of US forces, thus escalating tensions between the giants.
China is an empire. It is a growing empire expanding both via economic alliances and growing military might. Because the US is the world’s only superpower, China is the natural rival of the United States and vice versa. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR were natural rivals. The US-Chinese rivalry is somewhat analogous to the US-Soviet rivalry. Unlike the US-Soviet rivalry, however, the only quasi-buffer state between US forces and China is North Korea. Given China does not have actual control over its ally, peace between the US and North Korea is automatically a threatening prospect. Increased tensions make it even worse. China has an interest in minimizing the nuclear threat of the Kim regime, but it has little interest in peace between the US and the North. Ultimately, this could mean trouble.
That said, the impact of any agreement with North Korea on the relationship between the American Empire and the Chinese Empire is not the only concern. Although countries like India and Pakistan are major players, the disarming of the nuclear North Korea threat only dismantles a threat to them. It will do little to change the dynamics between these nations and their rivals. Japan is another story. Prior to its defeat in the Second World War, Japan was a widely feared imperial power. There is a history between Japan and all of its neighbors, but its relationship with China is especially important. There is a fear of Japan and desire to contain Japanese Imperialism due to this history. The status quo in North Korea helps keep Japaneses Imperialism at bay. Today, imperialist sentiments still remain a part of Japanese foreign policy. Just as the US often acts on behalf of the former British Empire, it does so for Japan in Asia. In pursuing talks with the Kim regime, it is, therefore, necessary to address fears among the Japanese and Chinese in order to prevent the reemerge of old conflicts.
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