Fred Henneke, Attorney & Counselor-At-Law
President Moon and Dictator Kim are making nice like a couple of star-struck sophomores in high school. When they met in the DMZ, it was the Alphonse and Gaston act; “After you, Mr. Dictator. No,after you, Mr. President. No, I insist. Well, if you insist.” After 68 years of bared-teeth hostility, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.
Nothing could be better than to have the two occupants of the most militarized/nuclearized small land mass in Asia leading the way to a potential reducing of tension, if not out-right peace. Their respective big brothers, China and the United States, at least for now appear to be cautiously cheering them on. There is a long way to go before the actaul realization of “peace, love and kimchi” (to paraphrase a song by Marcia Ball) but, as Confucius say, “The journey of a thousand leagues starts with one step!” A myriad of details and agreements and verifications and inspections and reductions and visits and promises and rationalizations remain to be negotiated, misunderstood, renegotiated, papered, re-papered, etc., before there can be true peace and security on the Korean peninsula. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I remain cautiously hopeful.
Where, you might say, do President Trump and President/General Secretary Xi fit into this minuet? Xi undoubtedly has the most influence and leverage over his vassal, North Korea. North Korea is heavily dependent on Chlna, not just for food and fuel but also international protection and support. North Korea is probably the most diplomatically and economically isolated nation in the world. Without China, North Korea well might have totally crumbled years ago. Kim, even though he is attempting to stand on his own two feet by developing nuclear weaponry, cannot afford to anger Xi. It is no coincidence that this rapprochement came after China unexpectedly supported and actually somewhat enforced the latest round of sanctions on North Korea. Furthermore, Kim’s first trip outside of North Korea was to China. However, China cannot dictate completely to North Korea – the Chinese are paranoid about the possibility of a total collapse of North Korea with the resultant refugee, starvation, and civil unrest on its border. Nor do they want a united Korea on its border. But, Kim will undoubtedly listen closely to what President Xi has to say regarding the terms of any agreement.
President Trump has less sway over President Moon and South Korea. Moon, Like Kim, he wants a formal end to the Korean War and a lessening of tensions so there can be economic and humanitarian interaction between the two estranged branches of the same family. Given the gross disparity between the two countries’ in economic terms, there is little to fear that the North would prevail over the South other than militarily. And South Korea has a powerful military of its own. Should President Trump push too hard for denuclearization so that that Kim balks, and Moon gets acceptable assurances of security from Kim, Moon and the South might very well go it alone. And we could be left as the odd duck out.
President Trump sees the summit with Kim as his chance to shine as the “deal maker” on the biggest stage there is, with the entire globe watching him and hanging on his every word. He wants to grab hold of this moving train before it leaves the station and be there when it arrives triumphantly at its destination. The President wants to accomplish something no other president has ever done – true peace and security for the United States on the Korean peninsula. Can you imagine the crowing over accomplishing something President Obama in particular was unable to do. Do I expect there to be concrete agreements signed, sealed and delivered at the Trump/Kim summit? No, but there will be a joint communique or declaration that keeps the ball in play.