ASPI Tracks Diplomacy and Intrigue on the Korean Peninsula

2018 Media Roundup

In 2017, the crisis on the Korean Peninsula grew increasingly dire. Surprisingly, in 2018 diplomatic engagement has taken center-stage. In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un expressed a willingness to engage in talks with Seoul and to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. South Korea proved receptive to these overtures, and on January 9, high-level North and South Korean officials met for the first time in over two years at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone. The meeting set off a round of inter-Korean Olympic diplomacy, which led to the formation of a unified Korean woman’s hockey team, and North and South Korea marching together under the Korean Unification flag at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

During the Olympics, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jung, who extended a formal invitation to Moon to travel to Pyongyang and meet with her brother. Moon’s acceptance of the invitation culminated in an agreement for Kim and Moon to meet on April 27 at Panmunjom, in what would be the first meeting between Korean leaders in over a decade, and only the third ever.

As a result of this Olympic opening, South Korea became the primary conduit between Pyongyang and Washington. On March 6, South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong declared that Pyongyang is willing to discuss giving up its nuclear weapons in negotiations with the United States. Days later, outside the White House in Washington, Chung stated that President Trump had agreed to hold a summit with Kim Jong Un this spring. This was a stunning break from past U.S. policy, as no sitting U.S. President had ever accepted a North Korean leader’s invitation to meet.

In late March, China, which had been left out of the diplomatic intrigue as South Korea and the U.S. lined up summits with Kim, made headlines when Kim made a clandestine train trip to Beijing, his first journey abroad as North Korea’s leader. President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Kim suggested that China and North Korea had repaired ties and raised new questions as to what role China would play going forward in pressuring North Korea.

In a few short months, Kim orchestrated a re-engagement with South Korea and China and made an overture to the United States, which resulted in a historic summit meeting between Kim and Trump in Singapore on June 12. As these historic developments unfolded in quick succession, Asia Society Policy Institute experts, including President Kevin Rudd, Vice President of Security and Diplomacy Daniel Russel, and Director of Asian Security Lindsey Ford, provided analysis on the viability of diplomatic engagement with North Korea, the policy options available to decision-makers in Seoul, Washington, and Beijing, and what the policy implications of the failure of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang would be for the United States and the region. See their contributions below.

(The below compilation was updated on June 12, 2018.)

The Singapore Summit: Deal or No Deal?

On June 13, the morning after the U.S.-North Korea summit, Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, a former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Daniel Russel discuss the outcomes of the Singapore summit and the evolving implications of U.S.-North Korea negotiations. The conversation at Asia Society New York was moderated by Asia Society Executive Vice President Tom Nagorski.

A Historic Breakthrough or a Historic Blunder in Singapore?

In Foreign Affairs on June 12, Daniel Russel writes that Kim Jong Un may have outwitted Trump at the summit in Singapore. 

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore for summit meeting

After G7 and Singapore, Tough Diplomatic Tests Ahead for United States

On June 12, Kevin Rudd discusses the implications of the G7 rift and next steps following the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

Kevin Rudd Fox News June 12

Trump Deserves Credit for Choosing Diplomatic Path

On June 12, Kevin Rudd discusses on CNBC the agreement signed between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, and what's at stake for China.

Trump Handed Kim a 'Propaganda Coup' in Singapore

On June 12, Lindsey Ford tells CNN that Kim Jong Un came out ahead in the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore.

Trump-Kim Summit Receives Mixed Reviews in the Region

On June 12, after the Singapore summit, Kevin Rudd talks about the impact of the Trump-Kim summit on South Korea and the region.

Devil is in the Detail in Analyzing Trump-Kim Summit

On June 12, Kevin Rudd talks to ABC Australia about how to analyze the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. 

Real Work Will Begin Day After Trump-Kim Summit

On June 11, Lindsey Ford explains on MSNBC that however the summit plays out, the difficult work for policymakers will begin on June 13. 

Give Diplomacy a Shot in U.S.-North Korea Summit

On June 11, Prior to the summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, Kevin Rudd tells CNN what can realistically be achieved.

‘CVID’ is Key in Trump-Kim Summit

On June 10, Kevin Rudd talks with Bloomberg about the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump's Dangerous Bet on Success in Singapore

On June 6, Daniel Russel writes in the Nikkei Asian Review that the Trump administration risks handing a big win to Kim Jong Un at the U.S.-North Korea summit. 

Kim Yong Chol (L) shakes hands with Mike Pompeo

Trump’s Dual Gambles in Asia

On June 4, Kevin Rudd talks to CNBC about Donald Trump's approach to North Korea.

Empty Promises Await U.S. at North Korea Summit

On June 1, Daniel Russel speaks to MSNBC about what to expect from Secretary Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol’s meeting regarding a U.S.-North Korea summit.

Could New China Tariffs Hurt North Korea Summit Momentum?

On May 29, Lindsey Ford explains the strategic U.S.-China-North Korea triangle and how it pertains to the North Korea nuclear negotiations.

Lindsey Ford MSNBC 5.29.18

Trump’s Approach to North Korea ‘Undermines His Own Position’

On May 28, Lindsey Ford tells CNN that the Trump administration has reduced the leverage it has against North Korea.

How Leaving China in the Dark Helped Doom the Trump-Kim Summit

On May 26, ASPI Program Officer John Van Oudenaren writes that Trump’s failure to coordinate with China before attempting North Korea diplomacy may have doomed the endeavor from the start.

Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un Delegation Meeting

North Korea's Position Has Been 'Relatively Consistent'

On May 25, Kevin Rudd tells Bloomberg Markets that President Trump's vacillation on a North Korea summit is damaging U.S. relations with its allies.

Consequences of Trump's About Face on North Korea

On May 25, Kevin Rudd discusses the causes and implications of the Trump administration canceling the upcoming summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

How Trump Got Outplayed on North Korea

On May 24, Lindsey Ford writes in The New York Times on May 24, 2018, that there may still be time to avoid the all-or-nothing trap with North Korea.

US President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn


U.S. at a 'Bureaucratic Disadvantage' for Trump-Kim Summit

On April 18, Lindsey Ford discusses CIA Director Mike Pompeo's secret trip to North Korea.

MSNBC Lindsey Ford April 2018

Beware Kim Jong Un’s Divide and Conquer Tactics

On April 9, As the Trump-Kim summit draws closer, Daniel Russel talks to NHK News about what to watch out for at the historic meeting.

NHK North Korea Interview


Three Reasons to Be Skeptical of the Upcoming Trump/Kim Talks

On April 3, Experts discuss whether an under-prepared U.S. president with a new national security team can solve the North Korea conundrum.

John Bolton has become President Trump's national security advisor.

Making Sense of the North Korean Challenge

At Asia Society Hong Kong on March 28, Daniel Russel, Kevin Rudd, and former South Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se discuss the North Korea situation in depth — including the implications of Kim Jong Un's meeting with Xi Jinping. 

The Xi-Kim Summit and Kim Jong Un's Gambit

On March 28, Daniel Russel discusses the Xi-Kim summit and what it means for U.S.-North Korea talks on CNN.

Why Talking to North Korea Is Important — Cheating or Not

On March 22, Experts, including Amb. Robert Gallucci, explain the logic of negotiating with Pyongyang.

North Korea and the Art of the Deal

Ambassadors Robert Gallucci and Christopher Hill, who have each negotiated key agreements with North Korea, discuss lessons learned from past nuclear diplomacy at an event at Asia Society New York on March 22 moderated by Daniel Russel. 

Daniel Russel on the Trump-Kim Summit

On March 10, Russel shares his insights with The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker about the recently announced meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Donald Trump is set to meet Kim Jong Un.

Will Trump’s North Korea and China Trade Gambits Pay Off?

On March 11, Kevin Rudd on President Trump's decision to meet with Kim Jong Un and issue tariffs against China.

Trump-Kim Nuclear Breakthrough an 'Extreme Long Shot'

On March 10, Daniel Russel talks with NPR about the prospects of a Trump-Kim summit.

Meeting Kim Jong Un Could Make Trump a Genius Negotiator or Another Dennis Rodman

On March 10, Daniel Russel talks to VICE News about the implications of a potential summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Kim Jong-Un reacting during a test launch of a Hwasong-12 missile

Trump's Gamble on Meeting With Kim Jong Un

On March 9, Lindsey Ford breaks down Donald Trump's surprising decision to meet directly with North Korea's leader, on MSNBC on March 9.

Lindsey Ford North Korea MSNBC Interview  3.9.18

Should U.S. Take Kim Jong Un's Invitation Seriously?

On March 8, Kevin Rudd speaks to CNN Today on March 8 about Kim Jong Un's invitation to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Pod Save the World: Can’t Out-Crazy Kim Jong Un

On March 7, Daniel Russel appears on Pod Save the World on March 7 to discuss reports that North Korea is willing to begin negotiations with the U.S. about abandoning its nuclear weapons.

Bitter Allies: China and North Korea

On January 25, Experts John Park, Michael Swaine, and Daniel Russel unpack key aspects of the critical and complicated China-North Korea relationship at an event at Asia Society New York.

Asia Abridged: China, North Korea, and the 'Conundrum of Bad Options'

On January 24, Daniel Russel discusses possible Northeast Asia flashpoints as 2018 gets underway in Asia Society's Asia Abridged podcast episode..

U.S. and South Korea Need to Be in Lock Step on North Korea

On January 9, Lindsey Ford speaks with Channel 4 News on whether Olympic diplomacy between North and South Korea could produce tangible progress.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump with South Korean President Moon Jae-In

How the Winter Olympics are Shaping Diplomacy with North Korea

On January 5, Daniel Russel writes in Axios about South Korea's willingness to engage in Olympic diplomacy with Kim Jong Un.

2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang

What's the Latest on North Korea? Three Key Questions

On January 4, 2018, Lindsey Ford answers questions about North Korea's diplomatic relations with the United States, South Korea, and China in 2018. 

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