Time is no longer on North Korea's side. The US-North Korea summit in Hanoi ended in a breakdown, with negotiations coming to an impasse. Having resumed weapons testing last week, Chairman Kim Jong-un has turned to another important, though often overlooked, regional player " his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok will be the first between heads of the two states since 2011.
The United States does not have the capacity to guarantee a "bright future" for North Korea, nor does the Trump administration seem concerned for the future of North Korea after denuclearisation. Kim's regional neighbours, however, certainly are.
While the resumption of weapons testing sends a provocative message to the US, talks with Russia may signal that Kim is ready to re-enter negotiations; the question is: will Putin turn this summit into a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear conflict, or will he merely grant Kim the piecemeal, temporary survival he likely seeks?
Such strategies " cheating United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397 by requesting aid via rice, energy and deferred repatriation of workers on Russian soil " are not going to benefit North Korea, nor its neighbours, in the long term.
Putin, who understands the threat that a security vacuum in a suddenly-denuclearised Korean peninsula would pose, must now leverage the upcoming summit to persuade Kim to adopt a bold and audacious plan " one which would ensure the "bright future" for his people so frequently promised by US negotiators throughout denuclearisation talks.
Kim will not accept any form of denuclearisation without an offer from the US that comes with assurances, not only for survival, but also for economic prosperity; this is why the Hanoi summit failed. To ensure that denuclearisation becomes a win-win situation for all stakeholders, the US, North Korea and its neighbouring countries should be guided by a blueprint for rapid development and permanent prosperity.
In other words, the negotiation pattern needs to be switched from the current one, in which denuclearisation is seen as a replacement for regime survival, to a new pattern that ensures establishment of North Korea as an economic power as robust as South Korea, while maintaining necessary security guarantees for the political stability of the North.
This paradigm shift can only take place in negotiations where the objectives are beneficial to all actors. Only if Putin has a clear understanding of the conditions necessary for North Korea's survival and prosperity, as well as the will to take the lead in exiting the current impasse, will the summit in Vladivostok be anything more than diplomatic window dressing.
North Korea's Kim to meet Russia's Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday
To be absolutely clear: under current US conditions for negotiations, denuclearisation is proposed as an indispensable prerequisite for the "bright future" of North Korea. This condition is necessary " but not sufficient.
The matter of what could compensate North Korea for abandoning nuclear weapons has been largely overlooked; so far there has been only a few "incentives" (e.g. a peace treaty, establishing diplomatic relations, ceasing US-South Korea military drills) and too much emphasis on "deterrence" (maintaining "maximum pressure" with sanctions; refusing to consider anything other than complete denuclearisation before any discussion of economic development funds).
For North Korea to accept denuclearisation and achieve regime survival and prosperity as a nuclear-free nation, it must achieve at least 10 per cent annual, dynamic economic growth over the next 10 years. To achieve such rapid growth, North Korea must not only secure a development fund of at least US$30 billion annually for 10 years, it must also implement radical and viable market-oriented reform and opening.
Russia, together with China and South Korea, are equipped to provide the necessary means to fill the security vacuum created by denuclearisation by reconfirming alliances and enacting a peace treaty between the North and the South.
As US-North Korea diplomacy falters, will Kim look to Russia?
North Korea is now poised, should Putin give Kim the chance, to negotiate its own transformation into a country without nuclear weapons, maintain system stability and regime legitimacy, and achieve rapid and sustained economic growth more remarkable than any other nation has experienced throughout the course of world history.
For North Korea, retaining legitimacy after denuclearisation and dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction can be achieved only by a courageous decision on Kim's part to fully allow reform of the system and to open up to the world economy; it cannot be done by maintaining the current system while relying on help from external stakeholder countries.
All of Korea's neighbours share a common interest: the prevention of North Korea's collapse. To both Russia and China, the North both serves as a security buffer zone from US influence and provides a valuable market. All countries would be pleased to see a prosperous North Korea, as economic modernisation guarantees a win-win scenario for all parties involved.
This is why, at the summit in Vladivostok, Putin must propose a shared policy for denuclearisation and economic development which reflects the security interests of all five of the stakeholder nations " Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and the US " and requires their unyielding support.
No one nation possesses all of the conditions necessary to convince Kim to abandon nuclear weapons in favour of economic modernisation, and the US has proven time and again that they are incapable of producing a coherent, objective policy.
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However, under Putin's leadership and with an economic package supported by all members of the six-party talks, Kim can be persuaded to transition North Korea from a hostile, nuclear state to an open, prosperous nation free of weapons of mass destruction.
Should Putin use the upcoming summit to implement a tangible plan to transform North Korea into an economic powerhouse, free of nuclear weapons, a bright future for Kim Jong-un's regime and the region at large is certainly on the horizon.
Dr Chan Young Bang is president of KIMEP University, principal investigator at the DPRK Strategic Research Centre, and former economic adviser to both former president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and former president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev
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