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ISU Expert: Take The Long View On North Korea Summit

Yong Teck Lim
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, center, is escorted by his security delegation as he visits Marina Bay in Singapore, Monday, June 11, 2018, ahead of Kim's summit with President Donald Trump.

It will take years before we can judge the success—or failure—of Tuesday's historic summit between the U.S. and North Korea, according to an expert at Illinois State University.

President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un spent Monday huddling with advisers in luxury Singapore hotels less than half a mile apart, readying for a nuclear summit that could define the fate of millions, and their own political futures. Their summit begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Singapore, or around 8 p.m. Monday Central time.

Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
Professor T.Y. Wang, chair of ISU's Department of Politics and Government.

Tuesday's summit will be the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president. There are similarities between this summit and other high-profile meetings of world leaders, said T.Y. Wang, chair of the Department of Politics and Government at ISU.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Adolf Hitler in 1938 is one notable example of a failed summit, Wang said, with world leaders fatefully choosing appeasement. The Yalta Conference in 1945 between President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was seen as successful at the time but came to be viewed as contributing to the Cold War.

President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 is another important example, Wang said, noting how it helped spur Chinese leaders to adopt a more market-based economy.

“It is possible that North Korea will do the same thing, if they’re willing to open up their economy and adopt this kind of reform. It is possible that 50 years from now, we’ll see a completely different North Korea. This will be dependent on their leader’s choice,” said Wang, an expert in East Asian politics.

Wang said it’s “always a good idea” for leaders like Trump and Kim to “sit down and have a conversation.”

“Just a few months ago, both leaders were trading personal insults, comparing whose nuclear button was bigger,” Wang said.

One sticking point, he said, will be competing definitions of what denuclearization means. The U.S. definition appears to be “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible disarmament of nuclear capability,” Wang said. The best possible outcome, he said, is a general outline of an agreement that identifies denuclearization as the angle.

“The bottom line is, this has to be considered a process. This probably will take years to be completed,” Wang said.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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