The Jakarta Post
The world, especially East Asian countries, including South Korea, Japan, North Korea and even China, should feel relief at the failure of the Hanoi summit on Thursday. A major success in the summit could have been devastating because it could have created a too-sudden change in the global power equilibrium and perhaps led to a power vacuum.
A fruitful summit could indeed have given United States President Donald Trump justification to withdraw US military forces from South Korea and Japan while the two countries remained unprepared to fully protect themselves. Trump has forced Seoul to pay 1.03 trillion won (US$890 million) for its military protection for 2019 and asked Japan to pay more.
Some diplomats and international media had — wrongly — predicted that Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un would declare an official end to the Korean War. They also predicted that Trump would announce the lifting of the severe United Nations economic sanctions in exchange for Kim’s readiness to abolish his nuclear ambitions.
As reported by Bloomberg, South Korean stocks plunged and the currency weakened after the summit. The benchmark Kospi index closed 1.8 percent weaker on Thursday, while the won slipped 0.5 percent. So-called peace stocks, a group of South Korean infrastructure names that had rallied on hopes that a positive outcome from the summit might lead to new business opportunities in North Korea, also fell.
Thursday’s meeting with Kim was disastrous for Trump. A success in taming Kim would have been sweet revenge against the Democrats, who humiliated Trump during a public hearing with his former private lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen in Congress just a few hours before the summit. It was damaging for the president.
The Democrats succeeded in distracting Trump’s focus as Cohen characterized his former boss in diabolical terms. Had the North Korean leader watched the live CNN or Fox News coverage of the hearing, he would have softened his demand for a total lifting of the UN economic sanctions.
Trump is a very trustworthy person. He never forgot to repay his debts to Cohen, who was once said to have used his own money to pay two porn stars after providing sex services to Trump.
Trump’s ambition to win the Nobel Peace Prize collapsed with Kim’s stubborn refusal to destroy his nuclear facilities. Trump had “forced” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to send a letter to the Nobel Committee to propose the US President for the prestigious prize that his predecessor Barack Obama won 10 years ago.
Trump wrongly thought that he could persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons just by flattering him as a great leader and predicting North Korea’s economy could surpass Vietnam’s once he abandoned his nuclear agenda.
Kim is not just ruthless and brutal to his people, but is also ingenious at the negotiating table. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping could not dictate to Kim despite the North’s almost total economic dependence on China’s generosity.
Forgive me for this very naive view. What the world urgently needs right now is not a nuclear-free North Korea. A much more predictable North Korean leader, who acts normally as the leader of a normal country, is a more realistic expectation.
Credit should go to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as his sincere and tireless efforts have convinced Kim to shift to economic development in order to survive and stop threatening the world with his nuclear weapons.
I believe Chairman Kim now feels very comfortable with his new status as a leader who has the capability to persuade the leader of the world’s most powerful state to meet him back-to-back in two different ASEAN countries. It is a point of no return for Kim, who used to threaten the world with his missiles.
Kim clearly was the winner of the first summit in Singapore last year and the second in Hanoi. His reputation as a global leader has skyrocketed in only eight months. Until June last year, he was only perceived as a leader of a pariah state, who let his people live in extreme poverty just for the sake of power.
Kim has also demonstrated his confidence in facing the media. For the first time ever Kim responded to a foreign journalist’s question. A reporter from The Washington Post asked him about his expectations from the summit. “Well it’s too early to tell,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say that I’m pessimistic.”
“For what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come out,” Kim answered through his interpreter.
There is actually a blessing in disguise from the failed Hanoi Summit for South Korea and Japan. South Korean President Moon must be disappointed as his endeavors to bring Kim to the negotiation table and meet with Trump now appear to have been to no avail, but this is not the case.
Moon has at least won Kim’s trust because of his sincerity and honesty. Although denuclearization remains elusive, the Korean Peninsula is a much more conducive place now as tension between the two countries has largely declined.
Despite the lack of a deal, the Hanoi summit will create a more peaceful atmosphere over the peninsula because Kim is much more predictable now.
As an Indonesian, who prefers to see the bright side of everything, I must say, “Thank God for the fruitless Hanoi summit.”