A CNN crew was on scene alongside journalists from many other outlets to report the apparent destruction of vital military infrastructure undertaken by the North Korean government around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site today, recalling visually apparent explosions at tunnels 2, 3, and 4. The inspection took place from an observation platform nearly 500 meters away. Witnesses further claim that additional structures were demolished including dormitories, watchtowers, and a metal foundry.
Whether or not the explosions, described as coming from daisy-chained charges the size of a soccer ball along the length of the tunnels and on buildings, were legitimately produced in good faith toward denuclearization or simply a smoke-and-mirrors show remains unclear. Journalists entering the country from the West as well as from China had any and all radiation measuring equipment seized and were only allowed a simple visual inspection of the rubble blocking tunnel entrances after the fact.
Several experts and analysts, including Chang-Hoon Shin, senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy, told journalists to be wary of accepting any staged or performative denuclearization acts by North Korea at face value. Given that the DPRK is famous for producing a great deal of propaganda, this advice may be well-received by political scientists on either side of the partisan divide.
Hours after the planned demolition, and in response to an insult made by one of Kim Jong-un’s top aides, one Choe Son-hui, American President Donald Trump penned an official letter canceling the planned Singapore summit that was to take place in June.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 24, 2018
Political brinksmanship appears to be a driving constant during the embattled negotiations taking place between the American and North Korean governments, a relationship that has been categorized historically as adversarial at best. President Donald Trump drew some ire, and some laughter, for referring to the hotheaded Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man” in several tweets, and Kim Jong-un publicly returned fire, calling the American leader a “dotard.” Words have been all the violence that has been exchanged between the two nations, and given the massive military and socioeconomic disparity between the two belligerents, so it is most likely to remain.
The tally remains in President Trump’s favor, however. Not only did North Korea release three American prisoners, seemingly destroy some of their nuclear testing facilities, and agree to the Singapore summit in the first place, the United States has conceded very little. In the obvious power position as they hold strong sanctions over the impoverished nation of North Korea, it seems like there is a little more leverage to be had before returning to the bargaining table, and a demand for increased decorum from the North Korean leader and his support staff.