Singapore summit: who gets what

By Parris Chang 張旭成  / 

Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 8

After a flurry of on-again and off-again diplomatic maneuvers, and theatrics as well, US President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore is on schedule.

In March, Trump accepted on the spot Kim’s invitation to meet, conveyed by ranking South Korean officials, surprising the visitors and White House advisers.

Trump on May 24 abruptly canceled the meeting in a letter to Kim, saying: “Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, as this time, to have the long-planned meeting.”

He had told the reporters the previous day that he detected a shift in Kim’s tone after the North Korean leader met for a second time with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in early May.

Astute dealmaker that he is, Trump did not want to allow a potential deal to slip away. So he wrote to Kim that “if you change your mind having to do with this important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth.”

Kim could walk away, but did not, as he genuinely wants a meeting with Trump, the first-ever with a sitting US president. Therefore, he invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to a secret, unannounced two-hour meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom on May 26 and told Moon that he had a “fixed will” to meet Trump.

Moon disclosed to the media at the Blue House the next day that he and Kim agreed that the summit in Singapore “must be successfully held” and he promised to “serve as a bridge” to facilitate it.

To international observers, Moon is a skillful communicator and a great facilitator who deserves most of the credit for the summit in Singapore. He deftly used the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang to invite and befriend as well as pay for the expenses of North Korean athletes, cheerleaders, dancers and musicians.

That generosity, warmth and goodwill led to a successful inter-Korean summit on April 27 at the Peace House in Panmunjom between Moon and Kim, who became the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South.

After taking office in May last year, Moon has promoted inter-Korean peace and reconciliation, as well as promoted dialogue between the US and North Korea.

He learned his lessons from a stillborn peace initiative launched by his mentor, former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, a decade before. As chief of staff in the Blue House under the Roh administration from 2003 to 2008, Moon helped Roh organize negotiations with Kim’s father, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and visited Pyongyang for a summit in October 2007.

The summit ended in a peace declaration and Roh’s pledges of massive aid to North Korea.

However, these were scrapped six months later by a newly elected South Korean president from the opposition party.

Roh was his own worst enemy and undermined his own peace program at least in part by his failure to obtain support from then-US president George W. Bush. Instead, Roh was arrogant and blunt, and vowed not to “kowtow to the Americans.”

Moon is more sophisticated and accommodating in managing relations with the White House. He has closely consulted with Trump and missed no opportunity to publicly praise and credit Trump for making the current breakthrough possible.

Much to Trump’s pleasure, Moon said Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

While Trump is on an earnest quest for a peace deal and to find a solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Kim Jong-un, who used to exchange insults and threats of nuclear annihilation with Trump, has in the past few months redefined and projected an entirely new image of himself on the international stage.

His surprise two-day visit to Beijing and consultations with Xi were a forceful manifestation of the young leader’s diplomatic acumen. He appeared poised, confident and ready to take part in the game of international balance of power, and play China against the US in the crisis over his nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Likewise, the inter-Korean summit was a huge public relations success for Kim, even though it primarily rehashed old inter-Korean agreements that have never been honored, and published a vaguely worded commitment to denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The masses liked the images projected on the TV screen, especially the pictures showing the two leaders crossing the border hand in hand and walking through the woods.

According to a survey conducted the next day by the Korean Research Center, Kim Jong-un, a formerly vilified tyrant and the most dangerous leader in the region, was now considered “trustworthy” by 77 percent of respondents.

However, most experts in South Korea were skeptical. They see in Kim Jong-un a cunning strategist who is skillful in deception, and his diplomatic outreach was designed to cast off his pariah status and soften international sanctions on North Korea.

They do not believe that he will give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons any time soon.

Questions remain on the outcome of the meeting in Singapore, such as: What would a deal on North Korea’s denuclearization look like?

Trump has called for North Korea’s near-term “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” in exchange for a treaty to end the Korean War, the establishment of US diplomatic ties with the North, US assurances for Kim Jong-un’s continued rule and the security of his regime and US aid for the North’s economic development.

On the other hand, Kim Jong-un demands a formula of staged and synchronized measures and steps to move toward denuclearization, which could take many years.

In this scenario, there are many stages and phases, and one move — or concession — by North Korea must be matched by a “reward” by the US, and all of the steps, timelines and “rewards” need to be worked out in great detail through give-and-take.

Trump has told the media that the summit is “much more than a photo-opportunity” and not a “one-meeting deal.”

He appears to have realized that US-North Korea negotiations will be hard and long, saying that the talks would start a process to bring about a resolution to the nuclear issue, and might take “one, two or three days, depending on what happens.”

Nonetheless, he predicted “a terrific success or a modified success,” without spelling out the outcome.

Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un is historic, but its outcome might not be decisive, as much remains to be settled. A brave, unconventional and intelligent leader such as Trump, willing and able to deal with the issue of dismantling the North Korean nuclear weapons that his predecessors would not, deserves to be applauded.

Indeed, the latest CBS poll shows that more than 70 percent of Americans approve of his efforts. Is the Nobel Peace Award Commission watching?

Parris Chang is a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University.