History in the making | Daily News

History in the making

A summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Chairman Kim Jong-un would have been unthinkable just a few months ago when they publicly traded barbs about the respective sizes of their nuclear buttons. Yet, the unthinkable happened at the Capella Hotel in Sentosa, Singapore yesterday, with the first-ever face to face meeting between US and North Korean leaders. This is indeed a historic achievement, in the backdrop of the long-standing animosity between the US and North Korea. The summit has far-reaching implications for Asia (especially South Korea, China and Japan) and the wider world, given the North’s nuclear and ICBM capability.

North Korea’s volte face after developing and threatening to use missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the continental United States, may have been caused by several factors. The economic sanctions were having a serious impact and China, the country’s closest ally, also adhered to the sanctions. North Korea was getting even more isolated internationally and there were several high-profile defections that exposed the dire conditions within the country. Moreover, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, more a dove than a hawk, was keen to extend an olive branch to the North. That strategy worked and the two men have since met twice, on both sides of the 38th Parallel. The South’s sheer scale of development from an impoverished nation at the end of World War II to an Asian powerhouse today would no doubt have left a lasting impression in Chairman Kim’s mind. Finally, a meeting with Trump raises the North’s profile in the international community.

It was a long and difficult road to the Capella from the streets of Pyongyang and Washington, DC. As Kim himself pointed out to Trump “it was not easy to get here - the past worked as fetters on our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward. But we overcame all of them, and we are here today”. Trump responded saying “we will have tremendous success and solve a big dilemma — that until now has not been solved, and working together we will take care of it.”

The “dilemma” here most probably refers to the North’s nuclear arsenal. As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former director of the CIA who recently travelled to North Korea states, the ultimate US objective remains the “the complete, and verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. In fact, denuclearization is at the heart of the bilateral talks between the two sides. On its part, North Korea has publicly destroyed (in front of TV cameras) at least one nuclear test site. The US has promised unique security guarantees to the North should complete denuclearization take place.

If the mode and tone of yesterday’s meetings - both the one-on-one and delegation talks - are anything to go by, the world can hope for peace in the Korean peninsula sooner rather than later. The two leaders, born 38 years apart, displayed the right body language and appeared to comfortable in each other’s presence. Significantly, the meeting was not limited to discussions – the two leaders signed a comprehensive document, a road map as it were, aimed at “complete denuclearization”. In the words of Kim “the world will see a major change” as a result of this agreement and President Trump endorsed this view saying “it worked out for both of us better than any of us could have expected”. According to Trump, he had already developed a “very special bond” with Chairman Kim and an invitation to the White House is on the way.

The entire world watched with amazement as the meeting took place in Singapore, but it would have been followed even more keenly in two other capitals: Beijing and Seoul. Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping on a couple of occasions prior to the summit, but the message was very clear – it would be difficult to defend North Korea diplomatically if more nuclear tests took place. Seoul would be elated if the meeting translates into real progress on the ground, because having a nuclear-capable hostile neighbour with the threat of war hanging like the proverbial Sword of Damocles is not very palatable. The two countries are technically at war and expectations are that tripartite talks among US, North Korea and South Korea would lead to a peace treaty between the two neighbours who share a common language and history. South Korea is also mindful of its long-term goal of reunification (it does have a minister for the subject), which has the potential to propel a unified Korea to further greatness.

There is another winner from yesterday’s summit: Singapore. The tiny island nation staged a perfectly-timed diplomatic coup (regardless of who chose the location) by hosting the two world leaders. The country hogged TV screens worldwide for a marathon 24 hours, enhancing its reputation as a modern, metropolitan world class city state. Apart from the political perspective, it will also boost its tourism prospects. But in the wider view, the entire world will win if nuclear weapons are eliminated from the Korean peninsula. 


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