The historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un heralds the beginning of transformation of Asia and the dismantlement of the control of the ‘West’, leading towards a spirit of unity and resurgence. Indeed, the first-ever meeting between a US President and a North Korean leader coincided with the first-ever deep disruption of the G-7 unity ever since it was conceived as a grouping of highly industrialized countries in 1973. The inevitable dismantlement of the dominance of the West – despite the best efforts of all its leaders – and the material and cultural rise of Asia has made one thing clear – the immediate future is bringing us closer towards a unification of Asia.
Bringing North Korea onto the international stage should be seen as a part of this movement, in the overcoming of a big obstacle to Asian unity. That the meeting between the two leaders not just went through extremely warmly and smoothly, but in a spirit of friendship, has accorded the kind of legitimacy and recognition to North Korea on the international stage, which the country has never had before in its history. In a similar fashion, the latest third inter-Korean summit in April, resulting in the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration, also went well. The previous meetings between North Korea and the US or the last two inter-Korean summits had backfired, with US’s John Bolton sabotaging the 1994 ‘Agreed Framework’ deal during the later George Bush years and resulting in North Korea reneging on its commitments to denuclearization. But never has a US President himself met a North Korean leader bestowing global acceptability on him.
The final statement at the historic Singapore summit itself did not contain much, but the US’s security guarantee to North Korea after denuclearization as well as the removal of US troops from the region has come as a shock to all, leaving both Japan and South Korea rattled and providing the perfect opening for China and Russia to ease up on the economic sanctions on North Korea, irrespective of what US does in the future. What Trump himself broadly wants is evident. He has to be aware that North Korea came to the summit as an almost fully nuclear country and to reverse that process, try to monitor it and ensure that it does not have hidden weapons sites would take more than a decade or two, and would be pointless.
The world will have to accept that North Korea is in the same league as other non-NSG nuclear nations like Israel, India and Pakistan, and should stop treating the nation like a pariah. It would be much better to have a nuclear North Korea on the world stage peacefully rather than risk starting the World War Three. Trump appeared to be more interested in winning the Nobel Peace Prize and boosting his domestic popularity, in addition to the attraction of withdrawal of troops from Seoul that he has always favoured even before his election, than in any global farsighted diplomacy. Despite the motivations of Trump and calculations of other countries, the irresistible momentum of the Trump-Kim summit was in the direction of removing this persistent thorn of an isolated and threatening North Korea from the Asian cooperation efforts.
As long as the situation on the Korean Peninsula remained what it has been for decades, the US would have always maintained its presence and kept the Asians divided and suspicious of each other. It was keeping Korea weak and trampling on its nationalism through the meaningless dead divisions created during the Cold War, it was ostensibly containing China in its own backyard and was already keeping a pacifist Japan, through its foreign and defense policy, firmly under its thumb – all because of the North Korean threat. Despite these hurdles, Asia has been rising. Increasingly, with China assuming a decisive role in world affairs, US is beginning to look like an illegitimate intruder in the region.
For many of the East Asian countries, the summit – no matter how short on substantive outcomes – was welcome news. And for both the Koreas – of the same blood, race and culture, but riven asunder by foreign domination for more than a century, first by Japanese, and then by Cold War and US politics – it was indeed an emotional moment. That there are concrete discussions on the reunification scheduled in the near future shows that both the Koreas consciously want that outcome and are moving towards that – none of the previous meetings triggered such a response. Only when the conditions are right does the work occur. Japan is clearly the most vulnerable country right now. Left in the cold by the US on the trade issue as well on the Korean issue, it is now planning to hold its own summit with North Korea, to resolve all existing issues and dissolve their mutual enmity. It also realizes that the talk of revising its pacifist Constitution will have to become an inevitable reality in a world where the US is withdrawing into itself and can no longer be trusted.
Other countries – Russia, Syria and India – are following suit in setting up engagements with North Korea, while the Western countries have reserved their judgement. This shows that the international recognition gained by North Korea has been a major breakthrough, irrespective of the promises Kim and Trump made to each other. Even if Trump – and his complex administration and anti-North Korea NSA, John Bolton – decides to continue with the material status quo, North Korea’s economy will be stable. Its major trade relations were with China, in any case, which will now not heed any kind of US sanctions after this summit. The additional advantage is that it can now cultivate its own economic relations with other countries like Russia as well. A summit in Japan – probably within the next two months – will further cement North Korea’s global integration, even as regular contact with South Korea has already been established. India had already starting courting the country few months ago by sending its diplomats and appointing an ambassador to the country.
This is the scenario that we can see panning out irrespective of US’s and North Korea’s promises or future collapse of the talks. But we must take account of the changed global scenario to see why these talks are not likely to fail and why North Korea will remain consistent to its present position. The biggest advantage of the current Trump-Kim equation is its simplicity, which bypassed and surprised many of the seasoned cynics in Washington as well. That Trump went to the summit largely unprepared insisting that the success will depend on the attitude marked a refreshing break from the convoluted cynical machinations of the Washington bureaucrats. At every opportunity, the Democrats and the liberal experts would invoke North Korea’s past betrayals and are even now insisting that Trump was probably played by the regime’s seasoned negotiators.
There is no evidence to back these claims. At that time too, John Bolton sabotaged the deal and an aggravated North Korea did not trust the US administration, which left no stone unturned to take potshots at it, calling it a part of ‘axis of evil’ and what not, besides the Iraq debacle which left its credibility tattered. The failure of the past meetings was in fact the failure of any common carefully crafted selfish understanding – agreements which today are less between nations and more between their soulless machinery of experts and bureaucrats. This summit was different – it was spontaneous and was prefaced by the slight tremors of reemerging emotional connect between the two Koreas – for the first time. It was prefaced by the spirit of nationalism and occurred in a context where Asia is turning towards itself. All these elements were missing in the past mechanical understandings. This summit and the future of North Korea is being shaped on Asian terms and not by an alien West. The role of US would be rather limited in the process, contrary to popular expectations. This makes all the difference and should shape future course of events on the peninsula.