Disclaimer: This article was originally written one week after the Singapore Summit took place on June 12, 2018.
Going home to Indonesia from an academic visit with Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) and other scholars from the Asian region to North Korea, my friend, Thomas Noto writes a piece that was published in his workplace’s website. He currently serves as the Director of Special Projects and International Relations at FPCI.
That very article picks on me a little and puts some motivation for me to finally take some time to finish this piece.
I find his writing very interesting as despite agreeing with him on some points, I have the urge to further inquire him on several other points.
Noto has carefully mentioned that critics pointed out the vague clauses on Singapore Summit document. Thus, what I would suggest to him is that because critics have pointed out that flaw, he should have given them a convincing answer on why, although the clauses on the document are vague, the documents are not useless — instead of pointing out that it is the job of American and North Korean diplomats in the future.
I said so because according to Robert King (2018), it is the job of the diplomats to narrow down differences, so that during the summit between the two leaders, they can eventually come to an agreement regarding the enforceable implementations. Robert King was President Obama’s special envoy for North Korea.
The second thing being the fact that — in which reality are we living in? In the reality that Kim Jong Un is the one who is winning the Singapore Summit or in the reality that Trump is the actual winner of the summit? — we still do not know which reality are we really living in.
I would argue that this game is not a zero sum game. Someone has to lose in order for the other party to win. In diplomacy, you offer something to your counterpart and make them feel as they have possessed it without actually giving it to them. It is a different story when you actually give it to them.
The primary goal of the United States is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Of course, the States has to pay a price. However, is ending the “war game” — a term Trump likes so much — worth it? Is damaging a long-lasting intimate relationship with long standing allies such as South Korea and Japan worth it? Trump’s move to unilaterally decide something before the summit took place hardly disregards its East Asian allies in the region. Even the Blue House had to write in their statement that they have to find out the exact meaning and intention of Trump’s “war game”.
On the other hand, Kim’s primary goal is not to open up the country. Kim’s primary goal is to sustain his leadership in North Korea. Kim needs something to convince his people that he can lead the country, despite his young age of 34 (according to Noto), just like his late father and his late grandfather did. Kim rose to power only seven years ago and is prompted by his own urge to search for something to convince the people of North Korea that he is not just an anak ingusan (the Indonesian for snot-nosed kid) who is leading the country.
Kim’s primary goal is to gain international attention so that North Korea can gain an equal standing with other states in international relations. By having international recognition, Kim can convince his people that he has led the country towards the right direction. Nuclearization has always been the major issue when talking about North Korea. North Korea uses the reason of feeding their starving people to seek for international financial aid and instead use those financial aids to fund their development on its nuclear capability and to fill the North Korean official’s pockets.
Never before a sitting North Korean leader meets a sitting US President. I would argue this is primarily because previous US Presidents understood that it would only give North Korea what it wants — an equal standing with a superpower like the US. The US has never wanted to give it to North Korea.
North Korea wants the world to acknowledge and recognize itself as a nuclear power. The US has never wanted to give such a recognition to North Korea.
Now that North Korean leader has met a sitting US President to talk exactly that, — nuclear and denuclearization — North Korea has won.
On Shinzo Abe
I would not agree that a meeting with Shinzo Abe would complete the picture, as Noto puts it.
By giving away a chance to meet Abe to Kim would complete North Korea’s quest towards international recognition, starting from its neighbors and the great power in the west — taking into account that Putin has sent an invitation to Kim to visit him in Moscow.
Is there any other winner?
In my opinion, there is another country who won in Singapore Summit; China. With the US drifting apart from Asia, China will have a stronger grip on its own continent.
South Korea — pushed by Trump’s aggressive foreign policy — is moving towards China, slowly but sure.
As outlined in my previous article, South Korea is being very careful when it comes to dealing with its biggest trading partner, China.
A Humble Conclusion
To win is to strategize the move carefully.
In the reality that Kim created, North Korea has won by had succesfully met a sitting US President for the first time in forever. North Korea is finally given the recognition for its nuclear capability — although only indirectly — by having the US asks Kim to denuclearize exactly their nuclear capability.
On the other side of reality, Trump has made an unprecedented move, “huge” progress, and a “very important” deal — two of Trump’s most favorite words. As the President of Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer, argues, at this point of time, it is not very likely for North Korea to strike its nuclear weapon, as it has engaged itself in a diplomatic threads with the international community.
Therefore, it is now a good time to ask ourselves: in which reality are we living in?