The White House has announced the cancellation of Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un which was previously scheduled for the 12th of June in Singapore. In a letter addressed directly to DPRK head of state Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump blamed what he called “tremendous anger and open hostility” on the part of the DPRK towards the United States. Trump however omitted to mention that this anger was in response to inflammatory and provocative statements issued to the DPRK from US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The full text of Trump’s letter to Kim can be read below,
Kim Jong Un
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission
of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
PyongyangDear Mr. Chairman:We greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties, which was scheduled to take place on June 12 in Singapore. We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant. I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.
I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialogue that matters. Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you. In the meantime, I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated.
If you change your mind having to do with this most 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. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.Sincerely yours,Donald J. Trump
President of the United States of America”.
This development comes on the heels of John Bolton who led a public attempt to sabotage the meeting through a series of statements indicating that the US sought to undermine the political integrity of the DPRK while threatening even a post-nuclear DPRK with a “Libyan style” conflict. While Trump subsequently distanced himself from Bolton’s remarks, it appears that the spirit of bad faith engendered by Bolton’s remarks has led to an effective implosion in the once tepid but palpable good will between the Trump White House and the otherwise Asian authored, owned and executed peace process. It nevertheless must be noted that Trump has expressed regret at the decision to cancel the meeting and has left the door open to a future summit. This may indicate that the decision to cancel the meeting was due to Trump’s own pro-meeting stance being undermined by those around him, namely Bolton along with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Vice President Michael Pence.
If there was ever a US politician who singularly encapsulates the essence of style guiding substance in its most unapologetic form, that man would be Donald Trump. Far from the carefully stage managed Obama years, Trump’s administration is less like the scripted affair of recent American leaders and more like reality-TV politics with geopolitical ramifications.
Even though the two Korean states themselves – beginning with the DPRK’s extension of an olive branch to Seoul in January of 2018 – are, along with China and Russia largely responsible for the appearance of a realistic peace process for Korea, when it was announced that Donald Trump would meet personally with Kim Jong-un, Trump’s increasingly fanatical diehard supporters rushed to assign exclusive credit for any potential success in the peace process to Trump and Trump alone.
In spite of this arrogant posturing by Trump supporters, including the ludicrous attempt to nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize before having actually accomplished anything (aka Obama all over again), both Korean states, China and Russia did not make any protestations about how the pro-Trump factions in the US were spinning the narrative as a unilateral Trump victory. This was in keeping with the win-win model that is more concerned with results than with optics or propaganda. After all, in opening Chinese markets to more foreign goods, including those from the US, China has done what it said it was going to do anyway, but nevertheless, China has used this to make Trump walk-back from his tariff war and in so doing, hand Trump a defeat disguised as a victory.
So long as an atmosphere of good will tinged with arrogance existed on the US side, all the other concerned parties in the Korean peace process were willing to overlook Trump being Trump and his domestic supporters being themselves. This all changed when US National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened a “Libyan style” scenario (aka lopsided disarmament deal followed by a brutal regime change war) for the DPRK with the added humiliating demand that all of Pyongyang’s remaining nuclear weapons and missiles must be brought to the US.
This elicited a furious reaction from the DPRK which was shortly followed by Kim Jong-un’s seemingly unscheduled informal trip to China after which the DPRK continued to criticise the US attitude to peace, particularly in respect of Bolton’s provocative remarks. This in turn led to South Korea volunteering to play a role of “mediator” between the US and DPRK in a clear sign that many in Seoul are privately worried that Bolton and his fellow neocon Nikki Haley might sabotage a peace process from which South Korea has potentially the most to gain. Now Russia has joined with its fellow Asian powers in condemning the shift in US attitudes towards Korea. According to Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova,
“The fact is, when the US threatens North Korea, Pyongyang, with a ‘Libyan scenario,’ they threaten not only Pyongyang. They threaten everyone, the whole region. And it is based on the history of the ‘Libyan scenario”.
This confirms that Bolton’s remarks regarding a “Libyan” style peace process have infuriated every party (both the direct and indirect parties) to the Korean peace process, leaving America isolated from a situation that just weeks ago many Americans thought was a unilateral Trump victory.
It would appear that Trump himself is also disappointed if not angry with Bolton as shortly after Bolton’s Libya remarks, Trump appeared to disavow the statements in a rambling White House interview. Since then, confusion has become the overriding factor in Washington in respect of Korea. What seems clear though, based on Trump’s own patterns of “negotiation” is that he is more smoke and mirrors than he is a hard hitter. The trade war on China ended before it began and Trump ultimately surrendered his zero-sum mentality to China’s win-win model. For all the “fire and fury” surrounding the issue of Iran, the US has admitted that its “new”(aka old) anti-Iranian strategy will be limited to harsh sanctions and more provocations of alleged Iranian targets in Syria, as opposed to the full-scale war on Iran that “Israel” would like the US to fight.
When it comes to Korea, Trump stated it would be an “honour” to met with Kim Jong-un as early as May of 2017. Months later Trump was threatening to destroy the DPRK at the UN General Assembly while childishly mocking the DPRK’s leadership. Then when the meeting between Trump and Kim was scheduled it was back to warm words about the potential for investment in the DPRK along with rounds of self-congratulatory pomp.
Just as both of Trump’s missile attacks on Syria did little material damage but nevertheless allowed Trump to pose as a victor in the aftermath of the attacks, it seems clear enough that Trump wants the honour of being the first sitting US President to shake hands with a North Korean head of state. After that, he can then tell CNN “I told you so”, watch his poll ratings go up, pat himself on the back and let the real negotiations begin which will almost certainly be dominated not by what the US wants but what China is able to effectively arrange and guarantee.
In other words, Trump wants the “photo-op of the century” – a chance to smile for the cameras with a DPRK head of state, something his “loser” predecessors were never able to accomplish. But for those around Trump, the issue is becoming about how to turn the optics of a Trump victory into a headache for the DPRK, South Korea, China and Russia, four countries that seriously want an even handed and mutually satisfying Korean peace process.
In summary, Trump wants a Kim Jong-un selfie, China, Russia, and the two Korean states want genuine peace and John Bolton’s neocon wing in Washington wants hostility against everyone else, including against Donald Trump.
For the time being, it seems as though Bolton has dropped a proverbial bomb on the peace process. However, there remains a silver lining. With the US sidelined by Bolton’s negative attitude towards peace, there is now a chance for the two Korean states to work with China and Russia to help bring a formal end to the Korean War through a much overdue treaty while also working to strive towards a more integrated and more multipolar Korea on the One Country–Two Systems model.
There is now a chance for the peace process to move on without the United States being directly involved in the negotiations. This could actually help to make the peace process one that could prioritise the needs and wishes of Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow over the increasingly unreasonable demands of Washington. If successful, this could mean that a more integrated pan-Korean economy and a peace treaty could be created on an entirely Asian basis without obstructionist input from the US. If such a thing were to be accomplished, the US would have little to realistically demand at such a juncture without receiving the rebuke of China, Russia, the DPRK and most importantly, peace minded South Korean public opinion.
Trump has lost his Kim Jong-un selfie moment for now, but north east Asia may have inadvertently won itself more time to complete the Asian authored, owned and executed peace process without any provocative interference from the only non-Asian party to the process thus far, the United States. If the caravan that is the peace process moves on while the barking dog that is Bolton continues to chase his tail, one could witnesses the development of a more harmonious Korea in spite of the US.