Mansudae Korea

Will Kim Jong Un attend the ASEAN summit?

The National Intelligence Service in South Korea revealed on the 24th of September during a closed-door meeting of the Intelligence Committee, that depending on the outcome of US-DPRK negotiations over the next month, the Marshal Kim Jong Un could partake in the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Busan, South Korea.

FM Ri Yong Ho typically attends international forums such as ASEAN

Whilst this in no way confirmed, it would be an opportunity to jump-start the stalled talks between the DPRK, the United States and South Korea. Moon Jae-in’s speech to the UN General Assembly this week outlined his wish for an inter-Korean ‘peace economy’ and for North and South Korea to guarantee each other’s national security; security guarantees are currently acting as the most significant roadblock in the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. However, these symbolic and broad statements are in stark contrast with the reality on the ground – talks between the two Koreas have stalled and are currently non-existent, perhaps as far from a ‘peace economy’ as it’s possible to get.

The negotiations with the US have continued to sit on the back burner for a few months. The spontaneous Panmunjom summit between Moon Jae-in, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump promised much but delivered little. Working level talks have so far failed to materialise with Pyongyang demanding the United States enter into negotiations with a new attitude or risk total diplomatic collapse. Some have speculated that a visit to Pyongyang by the US President is a possibility. Despite Donald Trump’s public statement on the issue in which he said the time was not right for such a visit, the events of the past few weeks, in which impeachment proceedings were opened against his administration and John Bolton, long-time hawk, was fired from his position as National Security Advisor, may have caused the political landscape to shift. In an increasingly desperate domestic political minefield, the President may turn to North Korea as an easy opportunity to make a splash on the international stage and drum up domestic support for his foreign policy initiatives.

The last proper inter-Korean summit was held a year ago in Pyongyang

The next few months will be a helpful indicator for the future. If Pyongyang decides to join the ASEAN forum in Busan, it would signify their intentions to continue pushing for better inter-Korean relations and would mark the first time the leader of the country visited the South. Alternately, we may see a continuation in the stonewalling of diplomatic advances from the US and ROK as Pyongyang becomes increasingly frustrated with the lack of results from it’s two negotiating partners. Either way, what’s left of 2019 could still hold some surprises for the Korean peninsula.

Benjamin Weston

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