North Korea plans to destroy a nuclear test site in front of a handful of foreign journalists on May 22, 2018 — a move that lets it shape a narrative of cooperating with the US without actually removing its nuclear capabilities.
Foreign journalists from the US, China, and Russia arrived in North Korea on May 22, 2018, to report on the destruction of an underground site that Pyongyang has repeatedly rocked with nuclear detonation tests.
At the same time, President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are meeting behind the scenes to discuss what to make of Kim Jong Un’s new, aggressive tone.
The planned destruction of the test site, in Wonsan, represents denuclearization North Korea’s way, meaning it isn’t permanent, verifiable, irreversible, or complete.
North Korea intends to make a big show of dismantling its test site by collapsing access tunnels, but it can always build more tunnels, dig the tunnels back out again, or test somewhere else.
Additionally, if North Korea truly has completed its nuclear program, as it says it has, then it no longer needs an active test site anyway. The US has maintained nuclear weapons without testing them for decades.
The US has demanded that North Korea denuclearize in more concrete ways, like by sending missiles and nuclear devices overseas for irreversible dismantlement, but that doesn’t seem to have gone down well with Pyongyang.
Additionally, North Korea recently has been lashing out at the US, and also South Korea, whose journalists were barred from covering the event.
Trump and Moon try to save the summit
While the world watches North Korea’s staged show of denuclearization, Trump and Moon will meet at the White House to discuss Trump’s coming summit with Kim as well as North Korea’s recent harsh words.
Until mid-May 2018, North Korea had made generous promises to denuclearize, asking for nothing in return. But the state-run media from Pyongyang has since changed its stance, again saying how vital its nuclear weapons are.
This change in attitude from Pyongyang prompted Moon to meet with Trump for their talk on May 22, 2018.
Since North Korea’s return to hostile talk, Trump has reportedly considered dropping out of the summit, and he has offered back some strong words of his own, implying the US could “decimate” North Korea if no deal is reached.
But with North Korea improving its ties with China following the announcement of the Trump-Kim summit, it’s possible that Kim could now back out of the summit and attempt to paint Trump as the belligerent one.
North Korea is outwardly embracing denuclearization with a showy destruction of a probably meaningless nuclear site, while directly communicating to South Korea and the US that it won’t disarm.
By doing so, it has ripped the narrative of denuclearization from Trump’s hands and turned it toward its own ends.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.