As Trump enters the final year of his term, his long-promised pacts are nowhere in sight.
On Sunday, North Korea claimed to have conducted a “very important test” at a rocket launch site. The launch was a possible precursor to a satellite or intercontinental ballistic missile test by the year’s end — what Ri Thae Song, the dictatorial regime’s vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. affairs, warned could be an unwelcome “Christmas gift” for Trump. In November 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced an end to nuclear warhead and long-range missile tests, which Trump at the time hailed as a diplomatic coup.
Trump warned Kim on Sunday that he had “too much to lose” if “he acts in a hostile way,” and urged Kim to maintain the “special relationship” the two have forged through two summits and a photo op at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
Trump cited the “strong Denuclearization Agreement” the two signed in Singapore in 2018. But the document was a short, rather vague memorandum that only marked the beginning of what would be a lengthy process of negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Those talks have not gone well. North Korea’s envoy to the United Nations declared last week that “denuclearization” — Trump’s avowed goal in all of this — is off the negotiating table. The latest North Korean “test underlines just how far bilateral relations have deteriorated since a failed summit in Hanoi at the end of February and could presage a new round of weapons tests and hostile exchanges next year,” my colleagues noted.
“The concern now is that the president, taking Pyongyang’s refusal to denuclearize as an act of disrespect, will revert to his pre-2018 policy of banging the war drums,” wrote Daniel DePetris in the National Interest. “This would serve some political purpose during campaign season, when macho rhetoric against U.S. adversaries can get a lot of applause breaks at rallies. But it would do absolutely nothing to manage the issue before us.”
Chinese officials have reacted angrily to what they perceive to be U.S. infringement on their sovereign affairs and, in recent weeks, launched a robust, nationalist social media campaign against criticism from the West. The tensions aren’t great news for Trump, whose Chinese interlocutors will be even less inclined to cave on trade matters in the face of American pressure.