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Shorenstein APARC experts assess the Trump-Moon summit, bilateral challenges

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U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in come out from the Oval Office to deliver joint statements in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 30, 2017, in Washington, DC.
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Getty Images - Alex Wong

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump recently held a summit in Washington, their first face-to-face meeting in a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Experts from the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center offered insights in a series of publications and press interviews.

In advance of the summit, William J. Perry Fellow Kathleen Stephens spoke on Bloomberg television about the challenges facing the United States and South Korea, and how those challenges would be prioritized during the bilateral meeting.

Moon would be bringing the message that the U.S.-South Korea alliance is a “strong one and that he remains committed to it,” and that, “only by working transparently and closely together” could the two countries address areas of concern, Stephens said.

“Only when Washington and Seoul are able to talk very frankly to each other and come up with a coordinated plan do we have any chance of making some progress on North Korea,” she added.

Stephens joined the program from Seoul, where a group of Shorenstein APARC faculty and fellows participated in a public seminar and the Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum, a biannual conference that seeks to foster dialogue about issues affecting the Korean Peninsula and the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

The seminar, held in conjunction with The Sejong Institute, received press coverage; such articles can be read on the Voice of America website (in Korean) and Sisa Journal website (in Korean).

In an analysis piece for Tokyo Business Today, Associate Director for Research Daniel Sneider assessed the outcomes of the summit between Moon and Trump, suggesting that their meeting was satisfactory – without signs of major discord.

“For the most part, this display of calculated pragmatism worked well. There was no visible daylight between the two leaders over how to handle the North and THAAD totally disappeared from the summit talk, at least in public and in the joint statement issued by the two governments.”

The summit, however, may prove to be a “temporary gain,” Sneider added. “Beneath the smiles, there was plenty of evidence of the gaps, and even the tensions, that exist between a progressive government in Seoul, one that echoes the views of its ideological predecessors of a decade ago, and a nationalist, conservative regime in Washington.”

Read the piece in English and Japanese.

Days after the summit, North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which the United States and South Korea followed by hosting joint military exercises.

Stephens spoke on WBUR radio about the ICBM test launch and the initial reactions of the Trump administration.

“If [President Trump’s] agenda is to take stronger defensive measures against North Korea, I think he will find strong partners in Japan and South Korea,” she said, noting that other measures, such as diplomacy and economic sanctions, have also been used to affect pressure on the regime.

Responding to a question about China’s relationship with North Korea, Stephens said Beijing has not exhausted all possible tools in its efforts to persuade Pyongyang to slow or abandon its nuclear and missile activities. This is because China fears a collapse of the regime and “takes a long view” in its calculus, she said.

This news item has been updated.