AT THE SINGAPORE SUMMIT Trump and Kim have a crucial opportunity to build a better world
Today in Singapore, two men will sit together for a summit of hope with the whole world watching closely. Either they will allow tensions to continue or seek a solution for permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and the region.
United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un will meet to discuss denuclearisation and a normalisation of their relationship. The world’s most-watched men arrived in the city-state on Sunday in good moods. The host, Singapore, has invested about $20 million (Bt641 million) in the summit with high hopes not only of contributing to world peace but also of lifting its own profile and that of the regional grouping of Asean, of which it holds the rotational chairmanship.
The ultimate goal for the summit between the two leaders is to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and to create a lasting peace following aggressive moves by Kim over recent years, including missile tests and the development of deadly warheads.
It is hard to guess the result of the meeting, as both leaders are unpredictable – if not irrational. Trump has declared the summit on, then off, then on again, over the past month, while Kim has used the meeting as a bargaining chip in demands for joint military exercises between the US and South Korea to be called off.
Trump is a businessman who will never play by any protocol. Kim’s diplomatic skills are not widely known, but he seems to be sticking to security issues and the survival of his regime. The young leader certainly did a great job when he met with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, at the inter-Korea summit at Panmunjom in April.
Analysts say Trump wanted the summit not only to raise his profile but also to allow the US to compete with China when it comes to influence over the secretive North Korean regime. If denuclearisation is tangible, Trump deserves a Nobel peace prize.
Kim needed the summit to alleviate the possible threat of a US preventive military strike and to get at least some of the sanctions on his regime lifted. If denuclearisation is possible, economic assistance is also possible.
However, there is no quick solution. Like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-un believes that possessing nuclear weapons and missiles ensures national security and the survival of his regime. It’s his warheads and missiles that have brought Trump to Singapore to sit with him as an equal, as both the US and North Korea are now nuclear states. So, what reason or rationale is there for Kim to throw away his bargaining power?
Washington believes his incentive is trust and good relations with the US, the lifting of sanctions, and possible economic assistance.
It takes time to build trust among nations. Technically, the US and North Korea have been at war since the middle of last century. The Korean War is now only suspended by a ceasefire agreement.
While Kim might seek economic development to raise the living standards of his people, the lifting of sanctions and economic assistance might not be enough for him to decide to abandon his nuclear programme.
The international community has been giving carrots to the regime in Pyongyang since Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father, was in power – but it has received nothing in return. Millions of dollars have been poured into the country, but all that while the nuclear programme was going on and its missile technology was advancing. The upshot now is that North Korea’s missiles can reach Washington.
Today’s summit between the US and North Korea alone will not be the key to success, as there are many others with an interest in the Korean peninsula. What is good for both Washington and Pyongyang might not satisfy Beijing. And a good result from the summit in Singapore might not be good for Tokyo and Seoul.
Therefore, the burden and obligation are on Trump and Kim to keep up the momentum of hope, enabling all stakeholders to negotiate for permanent peace.