‘After all, Kim didn’t say, did he, how quickly his country would work toward complete denuclearisation?’
WHAT A match-up. In this corner, the president with the fake blond hair, tweeter extraordinary, and no ordinary narcissist. In the other corner, the uniquely coiffed chairman, gourmand extraordinary by the look of it, and no ordinary despot.
Before he fought Joe Frazier in the Philippines in October 1975, the late Muhammad Ali, master of the predictive pugilistic couplet (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee/ His hand can’t hit what his eyes can’t see;” “If he keeps talkin’ jive, he’ll fall in five”), promised “a killa and a chilla and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
As the Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un bout approached, I too descended into bad verse: “Blood and gore in Singapore,” I thought. But it didn’t happen, did it. Rather – more bad verse – all was sweetness and light, with no sight of a fight.
The two leaders’ joint communique of June 12 sets out four main areas of agreement: (a) establishment of new relations between their countries, (b) efforts to build a “lasting and stable” peace in the Korean Peninsula, (c) recovery of prisoner-of-war remains from the Korean conflict of nearly 70 years ago, and (d), most important, a commitment by North Korea “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
That last area is the one that has caused the most grief over the decades in North Korea’s relations with the USA and other countries, mostly Western and Asian. Now Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But this is the same Kim who, showing international opinion the middle finger, successfully tested last year a number of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Trump derisively called him “Rocket Man,” warning of “fire and fury” in response to his provocations, and officially designated North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism.
Kim’s riposte was contemptuous: Trump was a “mentally deranged US dotard.” And we remembered that in 2005 North Korea, then under Kim Jong-il, the present Kim’s father, promised to “(abandon) all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs…” So in 2005 they were going to denuclearise completely; 13 years later, they will “work toward complete denuclearization.” This must be a new definition of progress.
What did Kim want? Above all, in my view, respect for his country from the international community, especially the USA. This has been a longstanding North Korean goal. And if respect is to be won through the possession and possible use of nuclear weapons that can reach America, so be it. “Rocket Man,” less than half Trump’s age (he is only 34), met fire and fury with fire and disdain.
And achieved respect: he has now directly interfaced with the leader of the world’s most powerful country, and walked away all smiles after making some nebulous pledges. How nebulous we already know: just two weeks after Singapore, on June 27, the North Koreans were reported as upgrading their nuclear facilities. After all, Kim didn’t say, did he, how quickly his country would “work toward complete denuclearization?” Yet Trump had already grandly announced that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat!
Kim also wanted an end to the annual US-South Korean joint military exercises, which his country has long seen as a prelude to invasion. The communique makes no mention of this matter, but in his post-meeting media conference Trump said that, yes, the exercises would be stopped.
I understand that neither South Korea nor Japan (which has for years been nervous about Kim) was informed, let alone consulted, in advance. No longer a nuclear threat! Tell that to the Japanese and the South Koreans.
And Kim definitely wanted silence on the human rights situation in his country. Trump obliged; he more than obliged. On September 19 last year he had told the United Nations General Assembly that “(n)o one has shown more contempt for … the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea. It is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing and oppression of countless more.”
Now, on June 12 this year, you couldn’t believe it was the same Trump speaking: “I think he (Kim) liked me and I like him… (He’s) a rough guy… (But he’s) smart, loves his people, he loves his country.” Ah yes. But Kim is reported, among his “rough” stuff, to have had his own uncle blown to bits by an anti-aircraft gun, with the bits then incinerated by a flame thrower. I say nothing about his half-brother’s murder. Charming fellow, Kim. Not at all depraved. With such love for his people and their human rights.
I shall come to other considerations.