Denuclearization of North Korea might be completed by 2020, says expert

A May 24 photo shows an explosion at tunnel 4 of North Korea's nuclear test site. Photo: AP

Donald Trump's gestures of patting Kim Jong-un on the back and placing his hand on the South Korean leader's shoulder during their first handshake ahead of the one-on-one talks on June 12 sent a positive signal that the historic talks would go on well, said an expert.

Li Jiacheng, a researcher of economic transition at Liaoning University, made the remarks during an interview with as Trump and Kim were holding their historic first summit on June 12 in Singapore.

After concluding his meeting with Kim, Trump said that the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula would begin "very quickly". The two leaders also signed a document which Trump described as "very important" and "comprehensive", and in which North Korea commits to work toward denuclearization.

Li, also an associate professor of politics, predicted that the process of denuclearization might be finished before the year 2020, the time when Trump will complete his first presidential tenure.

The United States has called for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization".

Some experts say that it would take 6-10 years to denuclearize North Korea, longer than what Trump expects.

"It is difficult for the United States to reach its goal of achieving a denuclearization that is complete, verifiable and irreversible by 2020, because problems including how to prevent North Korea from re-using its nuclear technologies and where the nuclear experts will be transferred are not solved," said Li, adding that North Korea might allow inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to step on the North Korean soil to verify denuclearization.

In May, North Korea reportedly blew up the tunnels at its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, which was witnessed by international media, making good on its April promises of immediately suspending nuclear and missile tests and scrapping its nuclear test site. Kim also vowed to concentrate on economic growth with opening up policies.

Li also said that the United States would reward North Korea with economic assistance and a peace treaty that might lead to the normalization of the relations between the United States and North Korea if the denuclearization goes smoothly.

The expert is confident about the ability of Trump and Kim to end the adversarial relationship, saying that the two leaders are "pragmatic".

Li concluded that Trump would rope in China and South Korea to share America's economic responsibility toward North Korea.

China is a major trade partner and ally of North Korea, and its imports of North Korean goods are considered as a big revenue stream for Pyongyang, which is still under strict economic sanctions by the United Nations.

In May, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that North Korea should be guaranteed economic assistance and security of its regime if it were to complete denuclearization.

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