Beyond the Singapore Summit

Trump’s north Korea moment is not Nixon’s China, yet inter-Korean relations will never be the same again. Whether sceptics like it or not the release of Joint Statement of President Donald J Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018, was a crucial step to give peace a chance on the Korean peninsula and make the Asia-Pacific region less tense. It was historic in the sense that after humiliating defeat in Vietnam the Singapore Summit signified the calculated retreat of the Uncle Sam in the Pacific theatre, accepting China’s dominance. After all Trump is a businessman and he finds in the Korean ‘war game’, a term frequently used by Kim, useless wastage of dollars. So he agreed to stop annual US-South Korea military drills and withdraw the 28,500 US troops stationed in the South, acknowledging the North Korean assertion that the military exercises and drills are ‘‘provocative’’. While North Korea commits to ‘complete denuclearisation’ as a part of the deal, America is not going to lift sanctions at this juncture. But sanctions cannot remain in place for long after both sides agree not to disagree on gradual improvement in bilateral relations.

Whether the Singapore Summit would end the legacy of the last ‘cold war conflict’ is open to question but it was certainly a step forward in the direction of building mutual trust and legitimising North Korea’s peace initiatives, not America’s war efforts. Both Kim and Trump overcame all kinds of speculation about the outcome of Singapore Diplomacy much to the dismay of the no-changers. Even a decade ago things were totally different. In 2008, Obama tried to open dialogue with North Korea without any success. In truth he had to face tremendous opposition from hard-liners in a super-charged situation where Kim was being regularly portrayed as a dictator. Rodman who first travelled to North Korea in 2013 on his own to meet with Kim was hounded by the war mongers and he received several death threats as a result of his out reach. And in 2018 Trump’s parley with Kim is viewed as a huge foreign policy win for America.

What will matter in the end is market and business. It remains to be seen when North Korea opens its doors to US multinationals. But there is the China factor—right now North Korea is heavily dependent on China for trade and commerce. For North Korea it is not that easy to defy China and swing towards America the way Vietnam does. In framing the historic pact China played its part silently and it was quite natural. On many earlier occasions America too depended on China to ‘tame’ North Korea.

For one thing China like America would welcome complete denuclearisation of North Korea. The group of nuclear five irrespective of their ideological and political differences, doesn’t want to include any new member in their elite club. China would be no less gainer in withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.

Korean people on both sides of the fence and peace marchers across the world greeted the Kim-Trump statement, ignoring what the hate-preachers were saying—or not saying. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, hailed the June 12 Santosa agreement as ‘a historic event’. And he had every reason to thank Trump and Kim for their ‘‘courage and determination’’ to take a daring step in breaking the status quo and moving towards positive change. In exchange of complete denuclearisation the US would have to ‘‘provide security guarantees’’ to North Korea. Trump’s assertion that ‘‘there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea’’, is disputed by many liberals and democrats as well, not to speak of ‘cold war’ veterans who will miss the opportunity to bash ‘North Korean dictator’. A deal cannot be a one-way traffic. So Pyongyang’s abysmal human rights records was never the focus of the Summit.

Meanwhile, North Korean state media reacted positively and highlighted, without any bias, the US President’s decision to halt US-South Korea joint military exercises. These drills and exercises were designed to aggravate tension and keep a war-like situation alive all the time, forcing North Korea to spend scarce resources for defence. American allies in the region particularly Japan, may now heave an audiable sigh relief that the Korean peninsula won’t be a theatre of nuclear war in future and their defence strategists won’t have to spend sleepless nights over the timing of Kim’s next missile test.

That the Singapore Summit has impacted globally and regionally, is a fact of life. In a rare statement on India, Pakistan’s present Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said, ‘‘India and Pakistan should resume comprehensive peace talks taking a cue from the historic Singapore Summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. America and North Korea have been at odds ever since the start of the Korean war threatening nuclear strikes quite often and yet today they seem to have returned from the brink of a nuclear flash-point’. Shahbaz, brother of ousted Pakistan Prime Minister justifies and quite rightly, ‘there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same’.

North Korea is not Pakistan. Nor is India South Korea. No bilateral or multi-lateral agreement can succeed unless there prevails a sense of mutual trust and give-and-take understanding. Given the bitter legacy left by history in the sub-continent to talk of lasting peace against the backdrop of continuing conflict all along the western border between India and Pakistan, Shahbaz’s suggestion has no taker.

One reason America can make deals easily with its old adversaries is radical change in their policy of containing communism and socialism. Old evil empires are now good empires for business! They can destroy socialism and communism from within. From China to Vietnam, market economy soars while communist parties in these countries mock at themselves by defining—or continually re-defining socialism to suit their capitalist adventure. What America failed to achieve through war, has now been achieved through peace, rather through peaceful transition to capitalism. Technically speaking the Koreans are still at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Vol. 50, No.51, June 24 - 30, 2018