President Donald J. Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, accompanied by their wives, arrive for talks at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017. White House photo by Shealah Craighead
Recent events and intense behind the scene negotiations seem to indicate North Korea, one of the few remaining rogue states, is making significant steps towards reconciliation with the West. With promises stretching as far as a complete renunciation of its nuclear program, the communist regime in Pyongyang provides, as usual, some of the most exciting moves on the global geopolitical chessboard. Are they real steps towards normality, or just a way of buying more time?
The last few weeks saw a surprise thaw in relations between North Korea and the United States, which culminated with the release of three American citizens accused of espionage, the visit to the White House of a very high ranking Korean delegate and the planning of a high-level meeting between the two rulers on June 12. Few political analysts foresaw such a favorable turn of events in a ping-pong game that was steadily heading towards war. Not long ago, President Donald Trump made it clear he is not afraid to respond with “fire and fury” to the threats ushered by the North Korean ruler, whom he nicknamed “Rocketman.” Kim Jong-Un on the other hand, was busy testing ballistic missiles and conducting underground tests, reminding everyone that the threat of a nuclear holocaust is still real.
Strained or relaxed, the relation between North Korea and the United States can be questioned on a bigger scale. The Cold War is not over and will probably never be, at least not while the scars are kept open through opposing ideologies and the prospect of swift annihilation. Like a chronic condition, the Korean standoff oscillates between the ends of the spectrum. Periods, when lasting peace seems possible, can give way without warning to periods when the clouds of hate are so thick they shield from view all common sense. The trend conserved itself, be it that on the other side of the negotiation table was Russia, China, Cuba, or any other antagonist.
Therefore, Kim’s surreal ‘friendliness’ should be taken with maximum precaution. The regime that spent decades isolating its people into a bubble, into a greenhouse of Communism ideology, won’t deflate easily after almost 70 years of sacrificing everything to become a nuclear power.
31-year-old Kim will take his meeting with President Trump as an interlude from real politics, a photo opportunity to smile to the world not as a moody warmonger dictator, but rather as a ruler who thrives on being the center of attention.
Cut off from the real world and hooked to closed-circuit television flooded with state propaganda, the North Korean people won’t even know their leader went away to bargain for a deal. For the sake of logic, Kim is poised to resume its old agenda. Millions starved and died for the country to assemble and maintain one of the biggest armies in the world, while normal economic development was virtually hijacked by the ambition of possessing nuclear capabilities. Although romanticized through propaganda, the effort was real, so its justification must remain intact. The North Koreans live in fear of being invaded by imperialist forces, and it will be very difficult to envision a day when such a veil would be lifted to show reality.
Deprived of normal economic ties with the rest of the world, North Korea’s state-run economy is very vulnerable to slippage. Kim acting more submissive than expected might be, in fact, a sign that the country is expected to go through a period of turmoil. Something similar happened between 1994 and 1998 when North Korea suffered one of the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history. According to some sources, up to 3.5 million lost their lives in what was later called “the Arduous March”. About the same time, the regime in Pyongyang bartered foreign aid for the promise to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Kim’s ballet of power must be observed in direct relationship to that of its main allies. China seems less and less ready to face the international backlash. Commercial ties with other key players of the region like South Korea and Japan are far more important than backing Kim’s confusing political agenda.
North Korea is once again sitting at the negotiation table, and everyone is anxious to see the results. With only days to go until the summit, anyone is free to make a guess whether old foes are ready to bury the hatchet for good.
There are many questions that remain to be answered about how the players in this diplomatic chess game will react. If China still looks at North Korea as an asset or a liability that creates problems and can bring war to their doorstep, definitely, they will not be happy with the powerful American military crowding their neighborhood. There are economic negotiations taking place between the US and China, reassessing trade and tariffs and those may play a role in how China will push North Korea to act further.
South Korea is desperate for a peace deal to take place and, with Japan, are sticking together, with the US following their lead. A few days ago, another player inserted itself in the situation, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov went to North Korea to meet with the dictator Kim Jong-Un and even Syria’s president Assad expressed interest to visit North Korea.
The world is waiting with breathless anticipation to see if the United States and North Korea negotiations at the Singapore summit will really take place and if Kim will choose peace and prosperity over war.