Coin commemorating US-North Korea summit STR/AFP/Getty Images

What Sank the Kim-Trump Summit?

The abrupt cancellation of next month's planned meeting between the North Korean and US leaders should surprise no one. Developments in recent weeks exposed three factors that doomed the initiative to collapse.

CANBERRA – When US President Donald Trump abruptly canceled his summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, he blamed “tremendous anger and open hostility” from the North. In fact, the summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, was doomed for three reasons.

First, the two sides mirrored each other’s misperception of the main motivation for the summit. Both thought the other had agreed to meet because of weakness and had made major concessions. Kim believed that his nuclear strength had forced Trump to the summit without preconditions, making him Trump’s equal as a head of state. He could afford to explore possible avenues for a peace regime, he thought, because North Korea’s nuclear sword provided immunity from US attacks.

But the Americans concluded that international sanctions had brought North Korea to its knees, leaving Kim desperate to conclude a deal on US terms. Part of the US strategy was to place additional pressure on China to rein in its client state or itself face tough financial penalties from Washington.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.