Today, Kim Jong-un emerged from a cloud of mystery, one made all the more murky by dishonest “journalists” who for decades have mis-characterised Kim personally and the DPRK as a whole and likewise, Donald Trump emerged from the fog of mutual disappointment at the G7 summit and a barrage of bad press. Stepping into the uplifting confines of Singapore’s historic Capella Hotel, both men came to talk peace and it would appear that both leaders emerged satisfied over the agreements reached and the spirit in which the agreements were conducted.
The ice is broken
In a short welcoming ceremony that was one part carefully arranged but at a human level, deeply improvisational, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump approached a small platform from opposite ends of an outdoor corridor before shaking hands in front of a series of DPRK and US flags. At first Donald Trump was the more physical of the two leaders as he gave Kim Jong-un his customary pat on the back and elbow, but as the leaders made their way to a small meeting room, Kim reciprocated with his own friendly gestures to the US President.
After months of tension there was no “rocket man” and there was no “dotard”. Instead the world saw two leaders walking with dignity, approaching a deeply serious issue with a visible mix of optimism and caution.
Sitting down together for the first time, Donald Trump spoke of his hope for a “tremendously successful” meeting, while Kim Jong-un stated,
“Past practices and prejudices were obstacles on our way forward, but we overcame all of them and are here today”.
It is noteworthy that this was Kim Jong-un’s first experience before a crowd of international journalists in a boisterous press conference style environment. Throughout the process he handled himself with dignity, grace, good humour and with a clear intelligence.
The photographers then left the two alone before they emerged just under an hour later. Both Kim and Trump appeared far more relaxed after their closed door session. Prior to heading into a meeting where the two heads of state were joined by high ranking officials from both countries, they shared a friendly wave to the reporters gathered below.
While cameras were only allowed in the meeting between American and DPRK officials briefly, both sides appeared to be thoroughly engaged in productive discussions. It was noteworthy that Trump was flanked by his White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and at the far end of the table a demure looking John Bolton – Trump’s controversial National Security Adviser, who at one point was not expected to attend the meeting because of his earlier inflammatory remarks towards the DPRK.
After the joint meeting, the group headed towards what was described as a “working lunch” where Trump jokingly asked reporters, “Getting a good picture everybody?”
After the working lunch, Kim and Trump took a private walk around the grounds of the Capella with Trump appearing to point out some of the features of the hotel to a smiling Kim Jong-un.
Finally, Donald Trump flanked by Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un flanked by his influential sister Kim Yo-jong signed the much awaited joint declaration regarding a commitment to Korean de-nuclearisation and long term peace.
During the signing Kim Jong-un stated,
“We had an historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change. I would like to express my gratitude to President Trump for making this meeting happen”.
Donald Trump stated that the meeting had been an honour and that he believes that the de-nuclearisation process will begin “very quickly”, while also stating that the summit had exceeded all expectations of those in the press.
What was agreed
The document signed by Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump affirmed Pyongyang’s commitment to rapid and complete de-nuclearisation (to be internationally verified) while the US side promised the DPRK security guarantees as part of the peace process and in order to insure a long term harmonious atmosphere in Korea.
Speaking after the signing ceremony at a lengthy press conference, Donald Trump revealed that he and Kim Jong-un developed a positive relationship from the beginning of their meetings and that Kim was a sincere believer in the importance of a peace process. In respect of the security guarantees offered to the DPRK, Trump revealed that he is planning on cancelling large scale US military drills with South Korea and Japan. This had long been one of Pyongyang’s important red-lines prior to the peace process and now it would appear that it will be met simultaneously with the US red-line of DPRK de-nuclearisation. The US President stated that such drills would be provocative during a time of dialogue. He continued to complain of the excessive expense of US drills – an expense that will now ostensibly be saved.
Trump also said that further along into the peace process, the vast numbers of US military personnel stationed in Korea could be withdrawn. About this issue he said,
“We have right now 32,000 soldiers in South Korea and I’d like to be able to bring them back home, but that’s not part of the equation right now, at some point I hope it will be, but not right now. We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless until we see the future negotiation is not going along it should”.
While Trump also affirmed that sanctions will not be lifted until the de-nuclearisation process is furthered (ostensibly not until it is complete or nearly complete), Trump revealed that the DPRK has already destroyed its missile engine test site in line with other commitments in the wider peace process and that he believes both peace and greater prosperity will be possible for the DPRK in the very near future.
The US President also stated that the meeting has paved the way for the end of the Korean War/Fatherland Liberation War which was frozen by the 1953 armistice, but nevertheless still technically continues as an unresolved cold conflict. Trump stated that the first person he will call after the meeting will be South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It is expected that plans will shortly be made for Kim and Moon to meet and formally sign a treaty ending the long war between the two Korean states.
The US President hinted at the possibility of a future visit to meet Kim in Pyongyang while Trump also plans to invite the DPRK head of state to the US. About this Trump stated,
“At certain time, I will. I said that it will be a day that I very much look forward to at the appropriate time. And then I also will be inviting chairman Kim at the appropriate time to the White House … And he has accepted it [the invitation]. I said at the appropriate time, we want to go a little bit further down the road”.
The two leaders also agreed to facilitate exchanges of prisoners as well as making plans which will allow the remains of fallen soldiers to be respectfully repatriated.
The winners and losers
In the era of Trump it is becoming increasingly common to classify various interested parties to major world events as winners or losers. With this in mind here is how these categories are broken down in respect of the Singapore Summit:
The Korean People
From the moment Kim Jong-un shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and walked him across the border from South to North Korea, it was clear that the possibility of the scourge of war returning to Korea was more remote than at any time in the previous century. Today’s summit which will pave the way for a treaty ending the war between the Korean states will solidify a new era of peace and and ever growing interconnectivity between a single Korean people whose land has been artificially divided along political lines since the 1940s.
Koreans on both sides of the border can now look forward to increased peace and prosperity.
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
While the western mainstream media “journalists” present at Donald Trump’s post summit press conference continued to slander the DPRK and while many in the wider ‘global east’ remain opposed to Donald Trump’s penchant for aggression, during the summit both men displayed a willingness to work cooperatively to bring peace to Korea and all those effected by historic tensions in north east Asia. For this reason alone, both Kim and Trump are clear winners.
While Donald Trump will have to fight a new domestic election in the year 2020, the young Kim Jong-un will likely remain in power for decades to come and will be remembered as a leader who like former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, brought new levels of prosperity to his people. In Kim’s case, important domestic reforms to the economy have already been made while infrastructural development has progressed at a rapid pace in spite of sanctions.
In the new era about which Kim spoke, the DPRK economy will likely develop at its most rapid rate since the 1950s, as the hard working and highly educated Korean people look to reap the benefits of peace through prosperity that Kim has committed his nation to.
China and Russia
China and Russia both played a direct role in helping to foster the peace process and as the process progresses, both superpowers will continue to play an even more constructive role in working to secure the long term safety of the neighbouring Korean people and also to invest in new economic projects for enhanced interconnectivity between the Korean peninsula and both Russia and China. It now seems inevitable that in the near future, Korea can be economically integrated into the One Belt–One Road trading initiative.
But perhaps counterintuitively, the indirect role played by China and Russia may have been even more important than the direct diplomatic interventions by the superpowers and the promise of future economic initiatives for Korea originating in Beijing and Moscow.
As the US gradually slips into second place as a global economic and military superpower in the face of China’s rapid rise to geopolitical greatness, the DPRK’s Supreme Leadership clearly felt confident that its neighbouring superpower is now well placed to both secure history changing economic partnerships while also guaranteeing peace in the face of possible future aggression. Likewise, Russia’s revitalisation as a superpower neighbour of the DPRK can further bolster Pyongyang’s confidence through cooperative partnerships in the future that would have been less meaningful in the 1990s when the Soviet superpower was reduced to a failed state.
Without the 21st century geopolitical ascent of China and Russia on the world’s stage, it is unlikely that the DPRK would have taken the bold steps it is now taking in order to end the conflicts stemming from the end of the Second World War in Korea. In this sense, the rise of geopolitical multipolarity and in particular the strength of the DPRK’s superpower neighbours clearly played a decisive role in convincing the DPRK that 2018 was the right time to end a period of isolation and embrace the win-win dynamics of geopolitical multipolarity.
With the exception of the United States, all of the major players in the current peace process are Asian. Even when the US appeared to have withdrawn from the peace process just weeks ago, matters continued to progress with the cooperation of the two Korean states, China and Russia.
Singapore can now be added to the list of Asian states playing a positive role in the peace process. As a nation of the global east but one which both economically and diplomatically has been able to attain benefits from cooperation with both Asian and occidental partners, Singapore represents the zenith of that which is possible when the multicultural Asian mindset is combined with a multipolar outlook.
Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew was a leader respected and admired as much in Beijing as in Washington and thus his living legacy that is south east Asia’s most prosperous state serves as an inspiration for any Asian leader looking to improve the future material and diplomatic outlook of his or her country.
Between the peace minded Moon Jae-in, the confident geopolitical leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the success story of Singapore and the forward thinking of Kim Jong-un, Asia as a whole has a great deal about which to be proud.
Dennis Rodman was the first man in the world to claim both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump as personal friends. Kim Jong-un’s love of basketball led to the former NBA champion developing a unique friendship with Kim at a time when few in the US had ever met the DPRK head of state.
Since meeting Kim and since appearing on Donald Trump’s former television show The Apprentice, Rodman has encouraged dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang and subsequently flew to Singapore to be close to the action during the summit.
Rodman spoke to the press after watching Kim and Trump shake hands and became overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing his two friends take a bold move for peace. In the 1970s, the US and China had ping-pong diplomacy and with the DPRK, Dennis Rodman’s basketball diplomacy helped pave a way for an opening of previously closed doors between the DPRK and USA. When others abandoned all hope, Dennis Rodman did not. It turns out he was right all along.
While western mainstream media has failed to embrace the collective spirit of peace and progress, social media has demonstrated a collectively mature and positive approach to peace. On the whole, one could learn more about the peace process from social media than from most major western outlets.
The western mainstream media
In the 1970s, when US President Richard Nixon shook hands with Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong, the move was embraced even by Nixon’s fiercest critics as a great diplomatic endeavour to ease Cold War tensions. Likewise, Nixon’s pursuit of detente with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was equally hailed by all except for those on the fringes of America’s John Birch style far-right. The same is true of US President Ronald Reagan’s meetings with Soviet Premier Gorbachev in the 1980s. Today though is a different story.
Because Kim Jong-un has been uniquely vilified by western media since coming to power and because Donald Trump has faced criticism from the western mainstream media more for his style than his substance, at the press conference subsequent to Trump’s meeting with Kim, most of the American and European reporters offered snide, sardonic and brutally pessimistic questions at a time when such things are totally inappropriate.
Ultimately though, no one will remember those asking the crude and vulgar questions but everyone will remember the peace summit.
Iranian media and western mainstream media typically do not agree on a great deal, but when it comes to pessimism regarding the Korean peace process, many patriotic Iranian commentators uniquely found themselves on the same side as liberal western media.
The reasons for this stem from the fact that when Donald Trump decided to withdraw the US from the JCPOA (the 2015 Iran nuclear deal) Tehran reached the conclusion that the US cannot be trusted as a partner for peace.
While it remains possible that the US will betray the DPRK as it betrayed Iran, there are crucial differences. In terms of security, the DPRK is located in prime global real estate. Sitting beside both China and Russia and with a friendly South Korean President on the other side of the border, the DPRK is in a neighbourhood that can act like a giant nuclear armed insurance policy should Trump or a future US leader abandon the peace process.
Iran by contrast is located between the US created wars in Afghanistan to its east and Iraq to its west with Syria lying just beyond Iraq. Needless to say, this bodes less well for peace, let alone a geopolitical insurance policy.
The other important issue is that while there isn’t a strong lobby of South Korean ultra-nationalists in the US agitating against the peace process, the powerful and well funded US based “Israel” lobby has successfully agitated against Iran’s national interests for years. In Donald Trump who himself has worryingly close ties to the Tel Aviv regime, the “Israel” lobby has found an open set of ears.
Thus, the JCPOA was in many was doomed from the beginning because of Washington’s tendency to follow the most extreme elements of the Zionist ideology, while for Korea, no such obstructionist parallel exists. Thus, Iran got a bad deal while Korea may end up getting a very positive one.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have little in common ideologically speaking, but both pursue a deeply anti-liberal political posture. Because of this, the ultra-liberal mainstream political class of the broader global west has tended to take a cynical view of both leaders. Many of these fears were temporarily validated during the protected war of words between Trump and Kim which began in 2017.
Now though, the two leaders have shown that in spite of the insults, traditional pragmatism has won out over liberal concerns with Trump even taking a jab at what he called the impotence of the “Clinton regime” (aka former US President Bill Clinton and his failed DPRK policy) during his post-meeting press conference.
If the peace process works as intended, it will be a victory for many things, but certainly not for political liberalism.
The peace process has many early stage heroes ranging from Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to Moon Jae-in and now perhaps surprisingly Donald Trump, but the man who started the peace process by extending South Korea an olive branch during his 2018 new year’s message was Kim Jong-un himself. Thus, the man who started the peace process is now the man who will likely follow it to its most logical conclusion.
2018 is therefore the year of Kim Jong-un.