US President Donald Trump scored a perfect 10 in Singapore. Whether the deal with South Korea’s Kim Jong-un finally works out is not known but it took courage to go ahead with the meeting. An agreement was signed between the leaders, the details of which are not yet available.
The sound bites from Trump were positive saying “… we signed a very important document…it is a pretty comprehensive document…the talks worked better than anybody predicted.’’ He also said he has developed a “special bond with Kim during the intensive talks’’ they had. In reply to a reporter’s question, Trump said, Kim would be invited to the White House. Will this usher in a new chapter in US-North Korea relations is to be seen. Is there a security guarantee in the agreement will be keenly watched by China. Russia and China both want US troops out of east Asia. Trump is unlikely to oblige.
The fact that Trump took the political risk of meeting with the leader of the Hermit kingdom needs brinkmanship which former US presidents, more used to the traditional way of conducting foreign policy, had avoided. If Trump pulls this off, it will be a major breakthrough. But, the devil will be in the detail as North Korea is known for walking out of previous deals. Trump administration officials said that verification was key to any agreement. But a crucial first step in a long process was taken today.
By getting China and Russia on board to enforce the sanctions, North Korea was brought to the table. Over 70 per cent of oil and essential supplies are sourced from China. Kim will be eager for the crippling sanctions to be lifted. It was this that brought him to the table.
For the 30-something leader of North Korea, it is a major breakthrough. North Korea already has its nuclear programme intact. They can dismantle it, but the technology is there for later use if need be. Kim Jong-un’s scientists have already tested not just the A- bomb as well as the Hydrogen bomb (though there are varying opinions on this), but also the delivery system. Not only does Pyongyang have medium range ballistic missiles but claims that it’s Pukkuksong-long range ballistic missile, capable of striking the US. Perhaps not the American mainland, but its Western Pacific island of Guam.
The testing of the ballistic missiles, in 2017 sent temperatures soaring in the region. One of the missiles fell near the Sea of Japan. South Korea was in panic. So, Kim Jong-un has come into the talks from a position of strength. Even if North Korea agrees to dismantle its nuclear programme, they already have the technology and revive it any time in future.
Learning its lessons from the fate of Libyan’s Mahmud Gaddafi, who gave up his nuclear programme and was later hunted down and killed by the Western democracies, Kim Jong-un has his insurance against a possible invasion of his country by the US. While the US has the capability of destroying Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities by air strikes, the fear that Kim would retaliate against South Korea or Japan, made the US pause.
Neither his father nor his grandfather or his great grandfather had the distinction of meeting the leader of the free world. Being on the same stage with Trump, with thousands of television cameras beaming his images across the world is getting legitimacy, something the Kim dynasty had been denied earlier. It has been a win-win for North Korea so far. But his assessment Tuesday morning, going into the talks, was sober: “It was not easy to get here. The past worked as fetters our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward.’’
Will today’s talk finally lead to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace in the region? Although the Korean war ended with the 1953 ceasefire agreement, tension has remained. Divided Korean families are waiting for a time when travel will be easier.
China will be watching developments with keen interest. Although China has long been North Korea’s only friend, the temperamental Chairman has often been unhappy with China. His uncle Song-thaek, who he killed, was seen as China’s man in Pyongyang. During his first six years of rule, Kim did not meet with President Xi Jinping. He finally met him in March as sabre rattling between US and Pyongyang continued. Then again in May, in the Chinese port city of Dalian.
China would be worried that the United States may have an agreement with North Korea and balance out China in East Asia. At one time, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger joined hands with China to cut the former Soviet Union to size. The US gave all help to China, including dual technology to challenge Russia. Now it fears, the tables may be turned against it.