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The Future of Asia 2018

North Korea's nuclear track record breeds skepticism, experts say

South Korean president's adviser shrugs off doubts, citing Kim's 'unprecedented moves'

From left, Moon Chung-in, special adviser to South Korea's president; Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University; Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute; and Akihiko Tanaka, president of Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, discuss the North Korean crisis. (Photo by Taro Yokosawa)

TOKYO -- International experts cast doubt on North Korea's intention to abandon nuclear weapons at a conference on the eve of leader Kim Jong Un's historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, while a South Korean presidential adviser pushed back against the skepticism.

"We should look on his record and be quite skeptical about his intentions to have true peace," Daniel Twining, president of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, told Nikkei's Future of Asia conference on Monday, referring to Kim.

Twining pointed out that Kim has prioritized nuclear development since he took power, and that North Korea abandoned a six-nation denuclearization agreement signed by Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in 2005.

"Is there anything different about Kim Jong Un?" asked Twining, a former member of the U.S. secretary of state's policy planning staff. "Maybe the time is different, maybe he is different, but I think the test is still to be proven."

Backing up Twining's argument was Chinese scholar Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a standing committee member of the People's Political Consultative Conference.

China, which provided Kim with an aircraft to fly to Singapore for Tuesday's summit with Trump, shares the goal of denuclearization, he said. But even if an agreement is signed, Jia said the chance of implementation is "rather low" at this stage.

"People cannot imagine that Kim Jong Un will give up the weapons that he attaches so much importance and relies on for North Korea's security," Jia said.

The academic stressed that the U.S., China, South Korea and Japan all need to be committed to encouraging the North to disarm. The U.S. could promise not to pursue regime change, "but who can trust the U.S?" he asked. Raising American intervention in Libya, he said the U.S. "cannot assure that it will not attack North Korea."

Moon Chung-in, special adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in for foreign affairs and national security, rejected the pessimistic view.

"I think that Kim Jong Un is ready for denuclearization," the adviser said. "He has been taking unprecedented moves."

Moon noted the destruction of North Korea's nuclear test site last month as one example. "He is trying to seek economic prosperity first."

North Korea's missile tests and nuclear development, Moon said, did not constitute cheating on the 2005 pact with the U.S. and other countries. Rather, Pyongyang was simply "hedging."

"When there is a low level of trust, you need to hedge," he said. "What is important would be to build trust between [Trump] and Kim."

Akihiko Tanaka, president of Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said Kim has three options.

He could strive to become like Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who opened up his country's economy. He could emulate his father, who veered away from denuclearization. Or, if things go smoothly, he might even become like former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, who contributed to the end of the Cold War. "But I think there has to be a lot of good luck," Tanaka said.

Nikkei staff writers Keijiro Ohata,Chiaki Kameda, Soichiro Yamashita and Arisa Kamei contributed to this article.

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