One of the world’s long-lasting enmities may, hopefully, be a thing of the past. With North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump deciding to meet in Singapore a month hence, curtains might be down on the absolute stand-off between the two nations that had defied even the end of the Cold War era hostility. The ice has been broken; and having come this far, the way forward is a matter of conjecture. The positives are there for all to see. The sole credit for this would certainly go to President Trump. It is his decisive stand that finally cowed down the North Korean leader. For a hilarious example, even silly talk of Kim (‘I have my hand on the nuclear button’) could only be met by someone as crazy as Trump (‘I have my hand on a bigger button’). Such show of madness on both sides had scared the whole world for some time but now it is Trump who seems to have come out the victor.
It had been no secret that North Korea had no existence of its own without the support it got, and not very secretly, from the erstwhile USSR and immediate neighbour China. With the break-up of USSR, the centre-piece of that edifice, Russia, chose mostly to mind its own business. China also lately decided to play safe. Under these circumstances, assumptions were that North Korea on its own could not carry on with its belligerence against the US for long. But, a generational shift and change of leader at the helm, too, did not help alter the climate of hostility the North held against the US, and vice versa, till very recently. It is safe to assume that Donald Trump’s arrival as president had a salutary effect in the matter of effecting a thaw between the two nations.
There is nothing yet to show it will hereafter be bonhomie between the US and North Korea. There are miles to go for negotiators to effect a meaningful breakthrough, though ideology should no more hold back a reconciliation. Trump has made it clear his essential goal is to denuclearise the entire Korean peninsula. How far Kim would go in this respect is anybody’s guess. In the minimum, however, he has shown a willingness to discuss such matters. Also, on the positive note, North Korea’s release of three Americans it held as prisoners was signal enough for the US that Kim meant business.
Notably, Kim held two recent successive visits to China to meet up with China’s President Xi Jinping before he set the ball rolling for the first-ever face-to-face between a serving US President and North Korean head of state. The perceived thaw, or a serious attempt at it between the US and North Korea, cannot happen sans Xi’s watch. China remains as North Korea’s most dependable ally in the modern world. It is likely that the persuasion for a discussion with the US came from China to North Korea when President Trump chose to extend an olive branch to the North Korean leader.
North Korea remains too poor a country, even today, by any yardstick. Beyond the belligerence against the US, in place and out of place, North Korea had little to boast about both in the past and the present as well. Juxtaposed against this situation, South Korea with help from the US and the West came far in matters of industrialisation, economic progress and by indicators of human development index. Ideology by itself cannot feed the impoverished millions. The Chinese leadership had realised this truth some three decades ago and the progress that the red nation made, (notwithstanding many contrary exposes as showcased in books such as ‘China’s Great Wall of Debt’) is the direct result of this change in policy and approach. North Korea has much to learn from China, if not from the Americans.
There is little surprise that Singapore has been chosen as the venue for the first summit between a US President and the North Korean head of state. Singapore has, ever since its formation as a city state, worked closely with the US and the West; and Singapore is the most trusted nation for China in the entire region, also as the leadership of Singapore is firmly in the hands of Chinese settlers from Lee Kuan Yew onwards. It is rather a mini China of sorts cobbled in the capitalist fashion. Thus, the East and the West meets in this tiny island nation.
Chances are that this setting itself would provide the necessary positive inputs for a historic turnaround in the ties between two nations that formed the last vestige of the Cold War era animosity fuelled on ideology and weakness transforming itself into idiosyncracy.