The seventh year of Kim Jong Un ruling North Korea has just ended and it seems that we have a winner for the title of ‘Analyst of the Year’.
The receiver of the prize is Ralph Cossa, whose brilliant column of November 2017 accurately predicted the forthcoming diplomatic swerve of 2018: a switch from massive saber-rattling to unprecedented talks and diplomacy.
Let us look back and see how this switch unfolded.
The last resolution
The first event of the seventh year of Kim Jong Un’s rule was the UN Security Council’s imposition of its final DPRK sanctions resolution, numbered 2397, in December 2017.
With London and Paris eager to please Washington as usual – and Moscow, to please Beijing – the development of the resolution was therefore mostly all about China and the United States coming to an agreement. As is well known by now, the resolution further cut oil exports to North Korea and imposed a deadline on the return of DPRK workers employed outside the country.
It is well known that the Security Council only really cares about DPRK nukes, with no resolutions ever adopted to address censorship, prison camps, and other grim political aspects of North Korea. The Security Council is therefore not about the people of North Korea, but a stage for geopolitics to play out.
Yet it was quite sad to see some people actually welcoming the “humanitarian” clause of the resolution – the enforced return of workers back to the North – based on the logic that the conditions they work in overseas are exploitative.
But the people who argued for this are either very ignorant about conditions of work inside the DPRK – which are much worse than in any place North Korean workers would ever find themselves abroad – or outright evil, wishing harm on their less lucky brethren. An example of a similarly sickening logic would be: “Conditions of Somalian emigrants in Europe are far from perfect, with many of them being exploited by evil bosses, so let us send them back to Mogadishu instead.”
Politics, as always, prevailed over humanitarian concerns. The resolution was adopted, although at the final moment the Russian delegation proposed to extend the repatriation deadline from one to two years. One should thank the person who thought about this and still, shame on the entire delegation for allowing this clause to pass at all.
So as the above mentioned diplomatic spectacle was playing out, the clocks began ticking for overseas North Korean workers. And if the situation does not, therefore, change before December 22, 2019, they and their families will suffer a lot in being sent back to the North.
The carnival begins
Back in December 2017, the atmosphere surrounding Pyongyang was very different from what it is now. North Korea would be met with “fire and fury”, announced the U.S. President. Military solutions were “locked and loaded”. And as Trump Tweeted, “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before”.
President Trump is indeed, a man of his word. Kim was truly tested like never before – just not in the way people expected him to be.
The change started with Kim Jong Un’s New Year speech, in which he suggested to send North Korean athletes to the South (from what I understand, this had already been agreed upon during secret inter-Korean talks in December). Winter Olympics were peacefully held in February, and there the visiting North Korean delegation hinted they would very much like to talk to the U.S. as well.
The central event of the year thus begun as a rather small one – when a South Korean delegation visited Washington in March and relayed the invitation for Donald Trump to meet Kim Jong Un, right after a meeting with the Supreme Leader in Pyongyang. It seems that Kim had mentioned a passing interest in meeting Trump, but Seoul was quick and smart to capitalize on this.
It was the way this was capitalized upon which then opened the way to a series of summits with North Korea. And while the first occurred when Kim Jong Un met Xi Jinping in March, the major media event was undoubtedly not until the April 27 meeting between North and South Korea in Panmunjom.
Peace for our time
Politicians lie and often apply double standards. This is their job and we should not exactly be surprised. However, this year they did so maybe even more than usual, at least when it comes to being honest about past crimes involving within the two Koreas.
When it comes to a summit with a Japanese Prime Minister, there is always a lot of talk in South Korea about how Japan should apologize for its colonial rule. And then apologize again, because the previous apology was not good enough.
This repeatedly happens despite the fact that Japan has time and again expressed regret for the crimes of the military regime of the late 1930s/early 1940s and compensated its victims. Furthermore, that particular Tokyo regime is long gone, Korea has been an independent nation for more than seventy years, and those Japanese people born after 1945 bear zero responsibility for the Imperial Army’s atrocities. Of course, the fact that the rule of Japan in Korea was not pure evil and that it was Japanese colonialism which brought modern medicine, education, and infrastructure to Korea is always forgotten in these discussions.
But when it comes to Kim Jong Un – instead of Abe – things in 2018 were very different. Thus with euphoria in the air, Seoul was flooded with extensive government and City Hall propaganda announcing the new age of peace. Yet this was the same City Hall which had demanded yet another apology from Japan only months prior.
But does Pyongyang not have so much more to apologize to South Korea for?
I understand very well that there is such a thing as diplomacy, but if the worst aspects of the past should be remembered every time Seoul talks to Tokyo, then why were they so quickly forgotten when it comes to North Korea?
The Singapore fiasco
While Seoul was basking in a supposedly rosy atmosphere, things still looked different from the White House’s perspective during the first half of the year.
Even though Trump had indirectly extracted a formal moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, got three American citizens back from Pyongyang, and demolition explosions at the Phungyye-ri nuclear test ground, he nevertheless ended up canceling the Singapore summit by surprise in May.
This was a time when Washington was arguably at its strongest, and for a day or two, it might have seemed that we were approaching an endgame. The genius of Donald Trump had cornered Kim Jong Un and the only thing left for Pyongyang to escape war or disarmament would be to accept becoming de-facto a Chinese protectorate.
Solving the nuclear problem, setting the DPRK on the way of Chinese-style reforms and liberalization, and bringing a better future for more than 20 million North Koreans: these could have been crowning achievements for a brilliant politician who had previously fought the entire American establishment and won.
Yet instead of Donald Trump emerging as a victorious superman, what we saw in Singapore was nearly the exact opposite.
The American president signed a pathetic piece of paper about an “intention” to work with North Korea, which looked like it was written in Pyongyang. The maximum pressure policy was thrown into a trash bin and for the next few months, we saw President Trump and Secretary Pompeo being comically optimistic about working with “Chairman Kim” – even though no progress was actually being made.
Make lies, not war
Neither President Moon, not Seoul’s Mayor Pak Won-sun are morons, nor are they wicked people willing to overlook everything North Korea has done for some strange dream of national unification. Donald Trump is also by no means a moron. Thus the Peace Show has not been conducted because the U.S. and South Korea are run by idiots – but because this is the alternative to war.
What probably happened is that Donald Trump was at some point shown the same thing which prevented all previous plans to attack North Korea from ever becoming reality: the real cornerstone of the country’s security, which protects it even better when missiles and nukes.
This is, of course, the thousands of DPRK artillery pieces ready to shell Greater Seoul at a moments notice – and President Trump specifically mentioned this threat to the South Korean capital in his post-summit press conference. And yet bizarrely, unlike the nukes, it has not even been suggested that this weapons-system might be withdrawn any time soon. If we were all friends by now, however, would it still be necessary for Pyongyang to continue holding a knife to Seoul’s throat?
The truth now is that after three summits with Moon, three with Xi and one with Trump, the situation surrounding North Korea has not moved even a single bit forward.
The weapons are still there, the sanctions are still there, and the North Korean workers are preparing to be repatriated to the DPRK to live a life of misery instead of getting a chance to earn some money in semi-decent conditions abroad.
The truth is also that this overall situation does not help ordinary North Koreans a single bit. And yet the truth also is that all this is still much better than the bloody carnage which could have started should President Trump not altered his position so radically in March.
The deadlock is not likely to be solved in the foreseeable future – and we will likely observe the twisted carnival of lies about peace for some more months.
Still, this is infinitely better than war.
Main picture: NK News
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