Trust paves the way to denuclearisation


Prof. ZHANG Bao-hui


The policies and leadership style of the current president of the United States are the subject of frequent criticism from politicians, commentators and academics, across the globe. However, Professor Zhang Baohui, faculty in Lingnan’s Department of Political Science and Director of the university’s Centre for Asian Pacific Studies (CAPS), is willing to give Donald Trump credit for the approach he's adopted to persuade President Kim Jong-un to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Along with the government of South Korea, President Trump has been attempting to build a level of trust sufficient to motivate North Korea to denuclearise.


Though Professor Zhang is primarily a China specialist, his work on the evolution of that nation’s nuclear deterrence policy has also given him a deeper understanding of the North Korean quagmire. As with all states which develop such weaponry, he believes North Korea has done so for security not expansionist purposes, and its policy is driven by fear and mistrust of other country’s intentions.


In China’s Assertive Nuclear Posture, State Security in an Anarchic International Order, his book published by Routledge, Professor Zhang uses a structural perspective to look at the anarchic state of international relations. Fundamentally, international relations are governed by the law of the jungle, he believes, with the strong nations abusing the weak, leaving each country feeling compelled to provide its own security. Nuclear weapons are often seen as the ultimate guarantee of national survival.


Precedents from recent history would also appear to offer little encouragement to North Korea to give up its weapons. Regimes in Libya and Iraq have been toppled following their submission to international pressure to abandon, respectively, nuclear and chemical weapons development programmes. One nation, Ukraine, even gave up the huge functioning arsenal of nuclear weapons it inherited when the former USSR broke up. Now, despite international guarantees, Ukraine has lost Crimea to Russia and seen further territory occupied by Russia-backed militants.


In contrast to his seemingly impulsive instincts in other areas, President Trump has pursued a consistent policy of trust building and security assurances in an effort to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Even if he is only driven by a desire to claim a diplomatic victory, his approach may, at least, reduce the chance of military conflicts in the Korean Peninsula.


Hardliners in his administration, though, prefer to use pressure tactics to force North Korea to denuclearise. However, it’s unlikely harsher sanctions would generate the sort of pressure that would persuade such an authoritarian regime to cave in. While the use of the military force would surely lead to the devastation of not only North Korea, but also of surrounding countries, many of whom are US allies.


Although he believes the only way to further the cause of denuclearisation is to build mutual trust, Professor Zhang is not overly optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the current negotiations. Every step taken by both parties has to be perfect in order to achieve full mutual trust between them. Even so, President Trump’s efforts have removed the immediate risk of war and relaxed the overall tension in the Korean Peninsula.


To know more about Professor ZHANG Bao-hui research projects, please click Lingnan Scholars.