U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will both gain politically from their meeting in Vietnam this week — even if there’s limited progress from what should be viewed as a “continuity summit,” a risk consultant told CNBC on Wednesday.
“The international community will stand back and say not much has happened, but if you look at domestic agendas —both for Kim and for President Trump — actually a limited amount of progress would be success,” said Richard Fenning, CEO of Control Risks, a consultancy.
Following their historic meeting in Singapore last June, key issues remain at the second summit between Trump and Kim: The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as sanctions on Pyongyang which have taken a toll on the North’s economy.
Kim and Trump are in Hanoi for their meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.
While some experts say they don’t have high expectations from this week’s meeting, John Park, an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, said what could emerge is a “big picture agreement,” plans for a liaison office and cultural exchanges.
A joint “game plan” could also be unveiled by Trump and Kim against the backdrop of a declaration to the end of the Korean War, which would “give the sense of a win-win for both sides and from there, the working groups will crank out the details,” Park said.
That could then set the tone and be the subject of subsequent meetings and follow-up summits, the experts told CNBC.
“The president will declare this a tremendous success; he will never suggest that this has been halfway successful whatever happens,” said Fenning.
Even if Trump’s discussions with Kim lack granularity in details, Trump will be able to show that “this kind of dialogue is much better than what was going on before.”
North Korea conducted its last nuclear test in September 2017 and last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017, setting off alarm bells in the international community.
Trump will also be able to tout his success internationally even if there are issues back home. Some of the domestic challenges he faces are: Securing funding for a proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, ongoing investigations on whether there was collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia in 2016, as well as negotiations with China over a trade deal.
“In among these, he has the ability to play the international statesman, which has bipartisan appeal back in Washington and it actually plays quite well in terms of his overall negotiations with China,” said Fenning.
As for Kim, he may be able to get some relief from sanctions and make some headway in an economic reform agenda for North Korea.
“I think the leader does want to do something different with the country; I don’t think this is the same agenda that his father and grandfather prosecuted before him. I think the reform of the economy in some way is what he wants,” said Fenning.
But, “he’ll be acutely aware that countries are their most vulnerable when they start to reform and he will be wanting to take that very steadily. But I think somewhere in the North Korean mental calculus that is inside Kim’s head, there is a different agenda that is looking to get out,” said Fenning.