With US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un arriving in Hanoi with talks aimed at dealing with the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, a lot appears to be riding on the outcome. Personally, I believe the entire operation to be a charade and with entirely different motivations than are being lauded in the media.
On one hand, we have Kim Jong-Un, who possesses Nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them. The extent and reliability of these is somewhat unknown to US intelligence, however there is no doubt that immense and catastrophic damage could be caused to South Korea, Japan and even China and Russia in the event of fallout should these ever be used. The fact that the Koreans have such weapons at all can largely be blamed on a succession of American intelligence and foreign diplomacy errors over a long period of time. More recently, the then US President George W Bush labelling the nation, along with Iran, part of the “Axis of Evil” and threatening to destroy the regime.
The acquisition of such dangerous weapons by Pyongyang was a direct result of this dialogue. The United States now has to deal with the consequences, which have been ratched up a few more levels since the DPRK began stating their desire to develop long range missiles, capable of hitting the US West coast. Test launches of prototypes have overflown Japan, and while Trump has successfully negotiated a no testing moratarium, North Korea’s capability to hit the continental United States seems unproven. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated the North Koreans do not have such capability.
Nonetheless, the North Korean side has weapons, they could be further developed, and the nation is already up to the hilt in international sanctions. Even vodka supplies are restricted, and knowing the brand involved, I doubt that was intended for Kim. Yet even with sanctions, North Korea has the weapons and it will take a great deal to get them to give them up. That isn’t Trumps fault; he didn’t make this mess.
What could be a huge problem however is President Trumps actual motivation for engaging on such a personal level with North Korea. Previous US administrations have tried, and usually been outwitted. Just look at this photo of Bill Clinton with Kim Jong-Il, the current Kim’s father.
He knows he’s been cajoled into something he really didn’t want to do. While praising the current Kim, who looked somewhat astonished when meeting Trump at their last summit, Trump has gone so far as to refer to him as a “friend”. That is beyond comparison with any other statement made by any other US President as concerns North Korea leaders since the start of the Korean War in 1950. Yet shortly before the Hanoi summit, news leaked that the White House had asked the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to recommend Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The implication is clear Donald Trump, well known for being media savvy, sees the North Korean nuclear situation as a platform upon which he can posture as a great statesman bringing peace to the world. If true, it is a highly dangerous game to be playing, let alone being rather presumptuous. It also brings in another avenue for the North Koreans to exploit. “You really want this prize Donald? Then give us this, that and that other there too.” It is the enhancement of the Presidents personal ego at the expense of not just the United States, but global nuclear security and safety.
Kim Jong-Un is no fool, and he will wish to extract the maximum concessions from the United States. President Trump is probably not in a position to deliver them, as nuisances such as sanctions need to be lifted by Congress, not the President. To be fair to Kim, he probably also wants to find a way out of this mess. If North Korea does manage to find a way to back down and give up weapons, it is probably Kim who should receive any Nobel Peace Prize, not Trump, which would be a supreme irony.
Trump has also promised to make North Korea “rich”. Again, it’s not in his power to do so.
As concerns Trump suggesting the North Koreans follow the Vietnamese model and convert to a part-market economy to develop their economy, that’s a little odd seeing as that is de facto acknowledgement that communist policies work.
However, there are two cavaets to this, first, that China tried this several years ago and it failed at the time, mainly because of the shocks such a move would bring to the Korean system. It was felt such a process would not be smooth and hundreds of thousands of North Koreans would migrate to Northern China. Secondly, its not a Vietnamese model, its a Chinese one. We know this because our firm, Dezan Shira & Associates, has been operational in China now for 27 years and Vietnam for 11.
Instead of Donald Trump, North Korea’s future direction lies with assistance from the Chinese and to a lesser extent South Korea, Japan and Russia. Bringing North Korea into China’s Belt & Road Initiative would be a good place to start, as would giving Pyongyag Observer status in some of the regional forums, such as APEC and even the workings of institutions such as the AIIB and ADB.
Trumps posturing as concerns North Korea is nothing more than a crude attempt to bag a gong. This will mean there will be a sharp division of interests, as Kim Jong-Un will be approaching this summit very seriously indeed. On one hand, the motivation is a bright bauble, on the other, regime survival. For us all, global nuclear security. One hopes that as this summit, it is Kim who manages to get the road ahead paved to eventual reunification with global development. Trump can be expected to depart two years from now, while the DPRK denuclearisation process will take years.
As for the Nobel Peace Prize, does America need to feel globally loved right now? Perhaps if President Trump had not upset leaders of Canada, Mexico, the EU, engaged in a trade war with China, and if US foreign policy had not upset Russia, Turkey, Iran, Venezuela or called most of Africa “shithole” while at the same time threatening to break up NATO and leave the WTO then things might be rather different.
But the White House’s request for a medal for their President represents a sickening new diplomatic low. No, America is not very much loved right now. And the motivation of using North Korea’s nuclear weapons to justify having one is absurd, and quite possibly dangerous.
What lies ahead? Pyongyang needs Beijing more than it does the United States. Economic development and an easing of difficulties in North Korea will be quietly highlighted by Chinese reconstruction projects, not front page headlines or requests for prizes from Washington.