While the cancellation certainly seems like a preemptive move to drop out before North Korea does, it was a bit more grounded than a host of other decisions made by the Trump administration. According to The Washington Post, North Korea not only publicly announced its reconsideration of meeting Trump, but stated the U.S. must choose whether to “meet us in a meeting room or encounter us at [a] nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
On the other hand, while canceling a diplomatic meeting due to hostile and unwarranted aggression could be seen as morally superior and admirable, it is also a complete antagonization of the nuclear-ready country and its volatile leader—which various politicians and other nations aren’t too impressed by.
“I was very much looking forward to being there with you,” said Trump. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.” While the open letter, at this juncture, is fairly gentle and calm—we’re only three sentences in.
The quoted open hostility, unfortunately, couldn’t be countered without anything but further open hostility on Trump’s part. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” said Trump, doing a wonderful job of aggravating one of the world’s last militant dictators with a nuclear arsenal.
While South Korean’s government was baffled by Trump’s announcement, others believe it was the right thing to do. “We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” said South Korean government spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
Former South Korean nuclear negotiator with the North, Chun Yung-woo, on the other hand, sees this quite differently. “It is true that Trump overreacted to the petty game North Korea was playing to improve its hand,” he said. “But if North Korea is not serious about denuclearization as understood generally, it would have been dangerous to hold the summit as scheduled.”
Ultimately, the global modern chessboard of politics is a complex system with so much nuance and unknown variables, that it’s hard to measure if this was a terrible strategic move or the best possible decision. The answer, of course, usually lies somewhere in between—and doesn’t land us in continued, renewed aggressions between two nuclear powers.