Friday, June 15, 2018

Postscript to the Singapore Summit

I won’t say that it happens all the time, but most of the time real life is so complicated that it easily escapes the bounds of narrative.

While Trump’s detractors are talking down the Trump summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, we do well not to lose perspective. Detractors are horrified that Trump lauded Kim, but they fail to note that, Eastern culture being what it is, if he had not given the North Korean leader face, there would have been no summit and there would have been no denuclearization process.

Detractors are appalled that Trump agreed to suspend war games with the South Korean military, as though this is a terribly high price to pay to show amity and cooperation. Of course, they would have found something to appall them, no matter what. It's what they do.

For Kim to proceed with any plan to denuclearize, he would have had to come home with something that looked like a victory. Without it, he would have lost face and would have lost authority. It would have emboldened those hard line factions that did not want to make any deal at all. He could not have appeared to have been slapped down by an American president. Such are the ways of diplomacy.

The summit meeting, lasting approximately a half hour, was ceremonial. The real negotiations were happening elsewhere and were led by the eminently capable Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. After the summit ended, Pompeo flew to South Korea and then to Beijing to continue the real work.

And besides, as a pre-summit story in The Hill noted (via Maggie's Farm) a few days before the summit, the rapprochement between North and South Korea is already happening.

The Hill reported:

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are starting a rapprochement process that, if successful, would fundamentally transform the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia at large….

 He [Moon] sees inter-Korean trade and investment links as the best guarantee for a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula. His rationale is that this would necessarily change Pyongyang’s strategic calculus as the economies of South and North become intertwined.

One cannot underestimate the importance of these economic interactions. Surely, they were facilitated by the summit. While the Hill believes that they would have continued regardless of what had happened at the summit, I do not think that that is the case. In any event, the summit was carefully scripted and ceremonial. This means that there was little room for improvisation. Whoever was responsible did well.

As for the sanctions on North Korea, they are being loosened:

Economic exchanges can take place even if the current sanctions on North Korea remain in place. Sectors such as tourism, which North Korea is trying to promote, are not covered by the sanctions regime. Aid can be used to transfer medical or agricultural equipment. Waivers can be applied in areas such as infrastructure building. The South Korean government already is drawing plans to improve inter-Korean trade and investment under different sanctions scenarios.

According to The Hill, China is starting to ease its own sanctions, this being, as I see it, a small reward to Kim for doing what Beijing wants him to do. Keep in mind that the rapprochement is happening because Beijing respected the United Nations sanctions this time and that the result was that North Korea was brought to its knees.

Yet, on his trip to Beijing yesterday, Pompeo announced that the China had agreed to keep sanctions in place until denuclearization was complete. To what extent it will do so remains to be seen. And yet, the effective cooperation between the United States and China, accompanied with the activation of economic exchanges between North and South Korea bodes well for the future.

For Trump's detractors, this is the nightmare scenario. They do not care if the world blows up, as long as they can defeat Trump.


Leo G said...

Interesting that a business man who has built all around the world and interacted with most of the various cultures, actually understands how to negotiate with these "foreigners".


Sam L. said...

Politicians have such narrow views. Heavily circumscribed.

Sam L. said...

And don't have a clue about why they don't know what they don't know.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ares Olympus said...

Don't you think if Obama or Clinton had saluted a North Korean general, or said they don't need to prepare, pundits would be calling Obama a fool of a president? Isn't that weird?