Tuesday finally saw the long awaited meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore. The meetings outcome seems to much depend on the side of politics you follow. Those who are supportive of Trump believe the meeting was a success and has averted what could have been a nuclear conflict between America, South Korea or Japan with North Korea and some combination possibly of China and Russia in support. Those who are more moderate Republicans including a lot of Republican aligned defence personnel and Democrats are concerned the agreement is just words and ignores the tyranny of North Korea’s human rights record and now allows China freer reign of Asia if Donald Trump follows through with his pledge to eventually remove US Soldiers for Korea. In this blog I will talk about the pledged agreement between the US and North Korea and offer my thoughts on some of the commentary that has taken place since the meeting.
From (1) there are four elements to the signed agreement:
- US and North Korea commit to establish new relationships between the two countries in order to fulfil the desire to see increased peace and prosperity for the two nations.
- The US and North Korea will make a joint effort to build a peaceful Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the earlier Panmunjom declaration North Korea will seek to completely denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.
- The two nations commit to recovering Prisoner of War or Missing in Action servicemen and immediately repatriate those who have been identified.
I have a few questions on these issues in the statement. My first comment mirrors one of the earlier concerns raised in this blog which is that these statements are rather vague and don’t give enough specifics on how peace and prosperity will be brought to the Korean area. Technically the two sides are still at war and I would have thought a specific peace treaty between South Korea and North Korea would be helpful. I have no issue with the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea but what will USA and Trump do if this does not occur, how long does North Korea have to completely denuclearise the country. The Economic sanctions against North Korea still stand in place what will be done to ensure the prosperity of the people of North Korea if they denuclearise, what is going to be done if that increased prosperity just feeds back to those in power rather than the people. (2) has the full transcript of Trumps 1 hour post summit press conference which is good read. In that transcript Trump says he plans to suspend war games with South Korea, that’s an act of goodwill but does that mean if North Korea suddenly make a strike against South Korea that the West won’t be adequately prepared to respond, particularly if as you said the US eventually want to withdraw their forces. Lastly I think it is good that the remains of members of the Koreans war will eventually get to return home for proper farewell but what is going to happen to the prisoners on both the US and Korean side of those accused of spying who are then being treated in a inhumane fashion. The number one example of this being prisoner Otto Warmbier whose story is expanded upon in (3).
I think a good starting point for this deal is to compare to the 1994 trade deal struck between Bill Clinton and the North which eventually fell apart in the early 2000’s as it was discovered by George Bush that North Korea was just using alternative sources to continue constructing their nuclear weapon program. The deal is detailed in (4) and essentially states that North Korea will give up their nuclear plant reactors in exchange for 500k litres of oil a year while non plutonium producing plants were being built. The difference though is that the 1994 agreement set out specific timelines for when things needed to be completed by and that specific dates were given for when the North needed to communicate with the South about a possible peace treaty that is not explicitly stated here because denuclearisation on it’s own does not end the war with South Korea. As one person said this does not achieve anything new and in the meantime America have given up one of their biggest trade chips which is the threat of staying war ready with military exercises.
I can understand the nervousness of people around Trump, he is certainly inconsistent and prone to outbursts that can have devastating effects when it’s coming from the President of the USA. I do believe as is reported in (5) that Trump and Kim have improved their personal relationship as a result of this meeting. Certainly they are like a lot of powerful rich leaders, big egos and prone to irrational comments such as Rocket man and Fire and Fury by Trump and a threat to blow parts of the US to smithereens by Kim Jong Un but if you stroke their egos they like and there is a respect for showing the power of each other and not giving in. Whether giving equal footing to your biggest rival when you are the strong US is questionable though as the US theoretically still have all the power and you’ve potentially given some of that up by letting Kim be photographed with you as your equal. The concern that is also given in this article is that Trump is going easy on some of the traditional rivals of the US at a time where his trade tariffs are putting a dent in his relations with traditional friends of the US such as Germany, UK and Canada. Now I think what we have seen under Trump is that a lot of free market countries aren’t actually that free in their economic principles and that this tariff push is a continuation of anti free market enterprise that all countries partake in. It’s just my belief that generally the biggest country in the world aren’t in as bad a position as they claim and so their tariff push now will only result in tariffs being pushed back that will probably just lead to the US being in a worse spot.
One thing a lot of critics raised about this deal is the lack of human rights atrocities being mentioned in the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. Now the article (6) does show that the issue was mentioned but again there are no details in the final summit agreement that detail what North Korea will do to ensure that the prosperity of the North Korean people that is hoping to come is in terms of their human rights and not just an economic improvement. Certainly one is not filled with a whole heap of confidence by the phrase of he will do the right and North Korea isn’t the only place where nasty stuff is happening. It’s like yeah we know that but right now you had the ability to get some change with North Korea. It’s also a change in tone from the US president famous rocket man speech where he called out the murders and brutal treatment of the people of North Korea.
Before I close this blog with my final thoughts on the summit and a history lesson I think it would be remiss of me not to mention China. I think almost all experts agree that China are the big winners from this summit. As (7) says it has long been the dreams of Beijing to see the stopping of war games by the USA and South Korea as they see that as an act of intimidation that only provokes North Korea to retaliation. If this lessened presence in the Korean Peninsula is replicated throughout Asia it allows a strong military force like China to instead fill the void which could particularly be devastating in such issues as the South China sea which is contested in it’s ownership and the ability for non China nations to venture through. Another side effect is if North Korea are a stronger economic force again it opens up the opportunities for China to start trading resources again with North Korea at a greater rate and lessens the reliance on China having to prop up a struggling nation. It also alleviates one of the biggest concerns of China which is of disgruntled North Korean Citizens leaving the North and becoming migrants in China putting more strains on their economy which does well for the rich but still has a problem with the prosperity of those less well off. There is also a thought that if Trump is softening his views on North Korea he may also soften his views on engaging in a trade war with China which would also be of benefit to the US economy.
Now my view on this meeting is that is overall a positive thing because I would rather the US and North Korea talking to each other than threatening to blow each other off the face of the earth. I am concerned though that at this stage this is not much more than a glorified photo shoot and that if things don’t work out well we might end up back in the fire and fury stance in a year or so time. I also am concerned that it’s not a good thing to make a nation more powerful than they are and North Korea, especially Kim Jong Un now appears to be an equal to Donald Trump. Something that my wife pointed out as well as (8) is the similarities of this summit to the Munich agreement signed between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in 1938. In 1938 Chamberlain travelled to Munich with French and Italian leaders to meet with Hitler which resulted in a peace treaty in return for Germany allowing to annex Czechoslovakia and reclaim the Rheinland and Austria. That led to the famous peace in our time speech by Chamberlain that quickly looked foolish when Germany broke the peace deal and invaded Poland which led to the start of WW2 as Britain declared war on Germany for the breaking of the peace treaty. Donald Trump’s comment at the end of his press conference did not fill me with confidence as he said that in six months time this may all be unraveled and I will tell you I was wrong but I’ll have a ready made excuse for it all of course. As the ABC article says Donald Trump could do to reread the history of WW2. I guess as with most things with Donald Trump we wait and hope that things don’t deteriorate.