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Two Koreas war risks

13 June 2019 Alison Evans

South Korea's Ministry of Unification on 13 June 2019 said that North Korea has again cancelled a weekly top-level meeting between counterparts at the two Koreas' liaison office established in September 2018. The ministry confirmed that there have been no top-level meetings since 28 February 2019, when the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un ended early and without an agreement. This announcement followed Trump saying on 11 June that he had received a letter from Kim and followed South Korean President Moon Jae-in saying on 12 June that he hoped to meet Kim before Trump visits South Korea around the G20 summit on 28-29 June in Japan.

Significance

These cancellations support IHS Markit's assessment that North Korea's preferred method of negotiation at present is leadership-level summits. Following his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April, Kim is likely seeking additional summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump.

Communication through South Korean channels, including a summit with Moon, would indicate that North Korea's leadership feels little progress is being made through backchannels with the US. The leadership is most likely attempting to coerce the Trump administration to abandon its all-or-nothing stance on "denuclearization" in exchange for sanctions relief. However, IHS Markit continues to assess that the Trump administration is likely to adhere to its negotiating position at least until late 2019.

Even if Moon succeeds in securing a fourth summit with Kim, this is unlikely to result in a concrete agreement beyond humanitarian assistance (the 3 May UN World Food Program report identifying 40% of North Korea's population as "food insecure"). This increases the likelihood of further weapons demonstrations by North Korea, including of capabilities up to an intercontinental ballistic missile launch probable in late 2019 or early 2020, and military action by the US such as large-scale exercises, as well as raises the associated risks of miscalculation and escalation towards limited conflict.

Posted 13 June 2019 by Alison Evans, Senior Research Analyst – Country Risk, IHS Markit

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