Whilst in Japan, the country in the world that arguably has the worst relations with the DPRK, Donald Trump Tweeted his lack of concern regarding Pyongyang’s recent minor missile tests. He further expressed his long held view that the peace process in Korea will result in a win-win success. Most importantly though, he gave Kim Jong-un’s government the biggest geopolitical wink and nod that one could imagine. Trump’s remarks were as follows:
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”
North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2019
This statement conveys three highly important developments.
First of all, Trump is assuring both his Japanese partners and sceptics in his own administration that the DPRK’s recent missile tests do not violate the broad de-escalation agreement entered into by the US and DPRK last year in Singapore.
Secondly, Trump has reaffirmed his personal trust in and good faith relationship with Kim Jong-un.
Finally and most importantly, Trump is giving a wink and a nod to the DPRK whose official media just published a scathing rebuke of Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 US election, Joe Biden. By referring to Biden in withering terms that including using one of Trump’s favourite insults of referring to an opponent as an individual with a “low IQ”, the DPRK was clearly speaking the language of Donald Trump in both a broad sense and in a literal sense.
As predicted in a previous Eurasia Future piece, far from being a country unfamiliar with the ways of the wider world, under Kim Jong-un’s leadership, the DPRK has become ever more adept at international diplomacy. Kim has demonstrated that he is able to deal positively with Donald Trump in an age where older and more experienced statesmen fail to keep up with Trump’s apparent caprices.
While Trump has never discussed the Juche idea of Kim Il-Sung, there is one thing that Trump has in common with the Juche mentality. In Juche, the personal is the political and the political is the interpersonal. Juche is not a traditional personality cult but is politics as represented by the combination of real life government and metaphysics.
While filial piety is an important part of all north east Asian cultures, in the DPRK, a specific political school of thought, the Juche idea specifically incorporates filial piety into a modern political system.
It is impossible to say whether Trump knows this and many might suspect he does not. But what is clear is that in his own rather more casual way, Trump places a substantial emphasis on the personal. For Trump, it is not enough to sign a good deal, one must sign it with someone who is genial, friendly, intelligent and also tough. Trump appears to respect in others the positive qualities he likes to associate with himself. As such, by being both tough and affable, intelligent and calm but also at times unpredictable, Kim Jong-un is displaying the kinds of qualities Trump respects.
The fact that DPRK media is increasingly using Trump’s language to deride his domestic opponents who have taken a less than positive view of the otherwise universally cherished Korean peace process, Pyongyang is in fact doing what few other countries have yet been able to do: appeal to Trump’s personal side with the aim of solidifying a win-win deal.
In this sense, the wider world could learn much from Kim and his country’s approach to Donald Trump. It seems as though the key to achieving a win-win deal with Trump’s United States is by learning to speak Trump’s language, understand his personality, appeal to his emotions and to do so from a position of sincerity. As all Koreans take the Juche idea very seriously, showing respect for an otherwise difficult negotiating partner like Trump is actually surprisingly easy in the DPRK context.
Kim has therefore given others a clear template in respect of how one deals with Trump. It is now up to others to use their own cultural characteristics in order to adopt a similar strategy that will ultimately be conducive to win-win deal making.