In simple words, the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore is not less than a smashing victory for both mavericks, who have practically flouted all the norms and discipline of conventional diplomatic customs by resorting to non-traditional and highly personalized diplomacy to arrive at a tangible outcome – and that too within a short span of 5 hours. No matter how much one dislikes their showmanship and moody temperaments, both of them have emphatically demonstrated that one-on-one and straight talk can sometimes instantly unlock the extremely intricate and decades old logjams. Of course, this is just the beginning and it will yet take years to eventually achieve the desired objectives of the signed agreement.
From sabre-rattling to flirtation, the roller-coaster relationship between the two has entered into a new phase where both appear to have a mutual interest in the success of this accord. Apparently the agreement signed at the Sentosa Island is merely a composition of four broad stipulations that provides an indefinable assurance of a peaceful and denuclearised Korean peninsula in the long run. Three major points are being highlighted by the critics against the Singapore agreement. One, it is being pointed out that the agreement simply indicates a pledge from DPRK that it will work towards complete denuclearisation but it does not contain a detailed road map for the denuclearization process. The second objection is that the deal falls short of Washington’s long-stated goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, but simply reaffirms the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration that Kim Jong-un signed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. And third apprehension is related to the sincerity and seriousness of Kim Jong-un’s commitment towards the whole peace process. All these objections have reasonable merit.
However, positives of the episode simply outweigh the negatives at the moment. No matter how much fierce criticism is being shown by some sceptics, the fact is that, despite not having a detailed, phase-wise framework for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Kim Jong-un has made a written commitment towards this goal – not less than a miracle if seen in the perspective of 70 years of complete impasse. The deal provides a broader outline of mutual assurance from both sides, but there is plenty of evidence to believe that both leaders mean serious business this time. President Donald trump, being an astute and extremely successful deal maker in the real estate business, is famous for his impulsive and norm-shattering decisions but this time his initiative is not gut-driven – he had done his home-work quite well and he was very confident that Kim Jong-un would give a “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”. There are ample reasons to believe that Donald Trump used back-door diplomacy – flurry of his emissaries’ visits to Pyongyang as well as the direct intermediary efforts of Moon Jae-in – to pre-assure a very positive response from Kim Jong-un at the summit. The unequivocal manner in which President Donald Trump assured to provide security guarantee to Pyongyang in exchange for unilateral and complete denuclearization in front of the international journalists and camera crews is the epitome of the whole summit.
Now the pricking question is what prompted Kim Jong-un, who until few months back was at loggerheads with Donald Trump and was exchanging slighting lexis with him, to take such a dramatic and sensational step which even his father and grandfather could not imagine.
There is no doubt that seven decades of almost complete isolation and crippling economic embargo – with the exception of support from Beijing - has pushed North Korea’s economic and social fabric to the brink of near collapse. Kim Jong-un inherited a very fragile and meagre economy in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il. The last seven years have taught him sufficient lesson that Chinese support alone is not enough to keep the economy alive and govern the people for a longer period. He has diagnosed the simmering dissatisfaction and discontentment that has seeped into all layers of the North Korean society, which can have long-term devastating impact on the survival of Kim Jong-un at the helm of power. He seems to have understood that his grip on power will gradually be eroded if he does not put breaks on the rebellious discontentment in the secluded, rotten society there. This is very natural phenomenon – not exactly food-for-bomb kind of bargain. In fact, he was wise enough to pre-empt this scenario few years back and he had already started planning for such breakthrough with Washington that would eventually compel him to open up his country.
His early education in Switzerland must have a great influence on his thinking pattern, making him different than his father. Soon after taking charge of the country, he ordered the construction of the Masikryong ski resort – a huge luxury by the North Korean Standards. Recently he also inaugurated the Kanggye Ski Resort, the second ski area to be built in North Korea in less than five years. All this is a part of his six-year spree of building new skyscrapers, luxury hotels and resorts that have popped up in Pyongyang and other parts of North Korea – an unthinkable phenomenon few years back. The Western media was used to wonder and question the intentions behind the construction of such a big series of luxury projects in a cash-strapped country. Interestingly all these completed buildings are still empty – waiting for the guests. He has also spearheaded the constructed new airports, motorways and fast trains in the last five years.
The obvious answer is that Kim Jong-un was already preparing for the tourists and international traffic that would suddenly dash to North Korea once he decides to befriend with the US and open up. South Korean President Moon Jae-in was the first one to read the changing mind of Kim Jong-un and he extended his hand to grab this opportunity. The early symptoms of change were apparent when early this year, upon the insistence of Kim Jong-un, both chronic adversaries participated in the Winter Olympics under one flag and one name. That was the most symbolic expression of changing ground realities in the Korean peninsula. By acting as almost co-host to the Winter Olympics, the two Koreas sent a clear message that Kim Jong-un had changed his mind-set and Moon Jae-in was generous enough to sacrifice more to reciprocate it. President Donald Trump had the hints about the changing priorities of Kim Jong-un and he simply grasped the moment and played the master stroke. Indubitably, there is a long way to go – may be even a decade - for the Korean peninsula to become completely denuclearized but this agreement has sown the seeds of an irreversible momentum towards peace and stability in the region. A lot of details are yet to be agreed upon and long process of complex negotiations will be required before the initiation of actual dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, however, one thing is certain that Trump-Kim-Moon trio will have to tread very carefully to assure a smooth run in the coming days. Particularly, the role of Moon Jae-in will be very crucial in keeping the process intact – for this, he and his fellow South Koreans should be ready for more sacrifices in the coming days for a peaceful Korean peninsula.
No doubt that seven decades of almost complete isolation and crippling economic embargo – with the exception of support from Beijing - has pushed North Korea’s economic and social fabric to the brink of near collapse.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.