Monday, June 11, 2018
As We Await the Singapore Summit and Its Tangle of Complexities...Godspeed, President Trump
PRESIDENT TRUMP IS IN SINGAPORE. He arrived Sunday evening, local time. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was already in Singapore. • • • TRUMP AND KIM. Fox News offered a brief summary of recent events. Fox's Gregg Re reported on Sunday about the road leading to the Trump-Kim summit, in an interview with Drew Berquist, founder and editor-in-chief of Ops-Lens : "Embarking on what he has called a "mission of peace," President Trump landed Sunday evening at Singapore's Paya Lebar Airbase for a historic summit with North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-un. Asked by a reporter on the tarmac how he was feeling about the summit after landing in Air Force One, Trump replied :'"Very good.' Trump was met at the runway by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. His high-stakes meeting with Kim is scheduled for 9 a.m. local time Tuesday, or 9 p.m. ET. A private jet carrying Kim had landed just hours earlier amid huge security precautions on the city-state island. His motorcade was seen speeding through the streets of Singapore -- a rare sight for the reclusive leader who rarely travels abroad. Kim traveled in a massive limousine, two large North Korean flags fluttering on the hood, surrounded by other black vehicles with tinted windows and bound for the luxurious and closely guarded St. Regis Hotel. Trump was joined on Air Force One by a stable of key advisers, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump had tweeted : 'I am on my way to Singapore where we have a chance to achieve a truly wonderful result for North Korea and the World. It will certainly be an exciting day and I know that Kim Jong-un will work very hard to do something that has rarely been done before.'....Earlier, before leaving Canada, President Trump told reporters : 'It's unknown territory in the truest sense, but I really feel confident. I feel that Kim Jong-un wants to do something great for his people and he has that opportunity and he won't have that opportunity again.' " • Despite his positive apporach to the summit, President Trump has made it clear that the stakes are high, but he said he believes "North Korea will be a tremendous place" if it makes the right decisions. "It’s a one-time shot and I think it's going to work out very well." Secretary of state Mike Pompeo told reporters last week that Kim has personally assured him that he wants to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons -- which the White House has called an essential, take-it-or-leave it goal of the summit. But, in recent weeks there ahs been much specualtion about what, exactly, may come of the historic meeting. North Korea has said it's willing to deal away its entire nuclear arsenal if the United States provides it with a reliable security assurance and other benefits. But, says Fox News : "Many, if not all analysts, say that this is highly unlikely, given how hard it has been for Kim to build his program and that the weapons are seen as the only protection he has. Any nuclear deal will hinge on North Korea's willingness to allow unfettered outside inspections of the country's warheads and radioactive materials, much of which is likely kept in a vast complex of underground facilities. Another possibility from the summit is a possible deal to end the Korean War. North Korea has long demanded a treaty that may be aimed at getting US troops off the Korean Peninsula and, eventually, paving the way for a North Korean-led unified Korea." • • • IS IT JUST TRUMP AND KIM? Or is it Trump, Kim and China? On Sunday, Thomas Lifson pointed out in Ameriocna Thinker that : "In the world of diplomacy, symbolism is everything, and Kim Jong-un just sent quite a set of messages by his choice of airplane to fly to the most important meeting of his life. He seems to have just acknowledged his tributary state relationship with China, among other messages. His use of an American-made Boeing 747 in the livery of Air China for his trip to Singapore is remarkable. The choice of airplane was not a matter of Kim not having an aircraft capable of the trip. His own executive transport plane, a Soviet-era IL-62 built around 1985 in the livery of Air Koryo, took off from Pyongyang for the trip shortly before the Air China carrying him did. This is the same airplane he used for his visit to Dalien, China for consultations with Xi Jin-ping prior to meeting Trump. North Korea sent three planes to Singapore on Sunday with one likely carrying its leader....According to Flightradar24 and official sources here, the Chammae-1 -- an Ilyushin-62M passenger jet -- which is the North Korean leader's private jet, departed Pyongyang Sunan International Airport at 9:30 a.m. and is flying in a southeastward direction without revealing its flight number. The website earlier detected a separate takeoff by an Air China airplane heading for the same destination at 8:30 a.m., after it discreetly landed in North Korea for a brief stop that last about an hour. The departures of the two planes come shortly after Pyongyang sent an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane to Singapore, according to the sources." Lifson reported that the day before Kim’s arrival, another Air China plane, an Airbus A-330, carried his advance party, presumably including many of the elite ruling circle of North Korea. That plane flew from Beijing to Pyongyang, picking up North Koreans, then on to Singapore, and back to China. • Lifson's question : "So, why would Kim fly Air China for the biggest trip of his life?" For Lifson the answer is "security was uppermost in his mind. The actual flight path used by A-330 advance party, which, while sticking to Chinese airspace as long as it could, was exposed to potential enemies over international waters. My guess is that he figured those who might be tempted to shoot down a North Korean airplane might be more circumspect attacking a Chinese airplane." But, says Lifson, there is anoterh possibility : "A second theoretical reason is a desire to fly on the same aircraft type that President Donald Trump is currently using, a Boeing 747-400. Arriving on an ancient and noisy IL-62 would denote inferiority. The particular plane that he used, with registration number B-2447…is quite special. B-2447 is used by the top rungs of the Chinese government, predominantly President Xi Jinping and his entourage, when traveling abroad. It is capable of being specially outfitted with a VIP interior and has special interfaces for secure satellite communications among other modifications. Of course, China’s leadership would be able to listen to anything said on that airplane. In a sense, the use of Chinese aircraft for his trip shows Kim acknowledging the need to internationalize Pyongyang’s economy, a goal that President Trump is holding out for him, citing the bright future ahead for North Korea if it gives up its nuclear arsenal." • There is a third possibility -- China insisted. China will be the elephant in the room tomorrow during the summit. We can be pretty sure that Kim's recent trips to Beijing were not for shopping and sightseeing. He met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. FXStreet notes that not only Kim visited China in the run-up to the summit, but "a high-level delegation from his ruling Workers’ Party toured China’s industrial hubs in an 11-day visit in May that focused on China’s high-tech urban transport and latest scientific breakthroughs. That delegation went to China only weeks after Kim declared an end to nuclear and missile tests and vowed an all-out effort toward 'socialist economic construction.' Chinese media labeled Kim’s announcement North Korea’s 'opening and reform,' shorthand for Deng Xiaoping’s policies, that replaced Mao's calamitous strict Communist state-controlled market economy first championed by Deng, who became China’s leader in 1978 and unleashed wrenching reforms that are widely regarded as creating the foundations of China’s economic miracle in the past 40 years. The changes were massive, the growth phenomenal, but most importantly the Chinese Communist Party has achieved all of this while not only retaining power but increasing its control over the country. FXStreet quotes Jeon Kyong-man, an economist at the Institute for Korean Integration of Society : “Kim is talking to Trump because he needs to get the United States to back off sanctions. After that, headlines will be all about Kim and Xi Jinping.” • It is obvious that China has -- after the starving North Korean people -- the biggest stake in the summit. China wants to protect its buffer NK -- think Putin railing over the EU invasion of its close-in territorial area when the EU tried to get Ukraine to join the EU -- think the US drawing the line when Khruschev began installing mid-range ballistic missiles in Cuba in 1961. China needs NK as a client state buffer. But, China also needs NK as a negotiator. If the South China Sea military build-up by Xi means anything -- and it does -- it means is that the Chinese leader is determined to control East Asia with a display of unstoppable force. He can't do that while the US is sitting in South Korea with 38,000 troops and massive amounts of military weaponry. China would lose the fight if it confronted the US directly to demand the withdrawal of these troops and weapons. But, Kim might just get some relief in that regard if he is willing to give up his nuclear capability as the payment. And, it would not be a lose-lose for Kim. He would get not only US protection and assistance in economic development, but also China's. Win-win for the Dear Leader. • Reuters says : "US President Donald Trump may have promised that North Korea will become 'very rich' on the back of American investment if Pyongyang ditches nuclear weapons but economists and academics who have studied the isolated country say it is China not the US that will be the engine of any transformation....China is already North Korea’s most important ally and biggest trade partner. And since Kim assumed power in 2011 the trade relationship has become even more important. China now represents more than 90% of Pyongyang’s trade, making it just about North Korea’s only economic lifeline, as the deep economic sanctions imposed by the US and UN bite....Xi, under intense pressure from Trump, started enforcing sanctions strictly in the second half of 2017. By March this year, China imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea for a sixth month in a row, in line with UN Security Council sanctions. That has hurt North Korea’s coal-intensive heavy industries and manufacturing sectors. But more importantly, plunging trade with Beijing has been 'killing the most thriving part of the economy' -- unofficial markets where individuals and wholesalers buy and sell mostly Chinese-made consumer goods and agricultural products, Jeon said. 'More than anything, it was China’s decision to enforce sanctions that squeezed the economy and made removing of the sanctions an urgent task for Kim,' he said. • Kim Byung-yeon, an economics professor at Seoul National University, told Reuters : “It [a Deng-style economic reform] could leave Kim Jong-un with less than half the power he has now.” As part of efforts to maintain control, any opening could initially be limited to “special economic zones,” where Pyongyang has sought to combine its cheap labor with China’s financial firepower and technological know-how, according to BMI Research, a unit of Fitch Group. • • • THE SUMMIT. President told reporters on Monday his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could “work out very nicely” as officials from both countries sought to narrow differences on how to end a nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula. But, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo injected a note of caution ahead of the first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders on Tuesday, saying that it remained to be seen whether Kim was sincere about his willingness to denuclearize. Reuters reported : "Offering a preview to reporters on the eve of the summit, Pompeo said it could provide 'an unprecedented opportunity to change the trajectory of our relationship and bring peace and prosperity' to North Korea. However, he played down the possibility of a quick breakthrough and said the summit should set the framework for 'the hard work that will follow,' insisting that North Korea had to move toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization." Pompeo said sanctions would remain in place until denuclearization occurs : “If diplomacy does not move in the right direction...those measures will increase. North Korea has previously confirmed to us its willingness to denuclearize and we are eager to see if those words prove sincere." • A denuclearized NK would fit in nicely with China's buffer-plus-US-withdrawal, giving Xi a much stronger argument that the US was no longer needed in South Korea. Although gaps remain over what denuclearization would entail, Trump sounded a positive note in a lunch meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong : “We’ve got a very interesting meeting...tomorrow, and I just think it’s going to work out very nicely,” Trump said. Kim, who also arrived on Sunday, left the heavily guarded St Regis Hotel, where he is staying on Monday evening for a walkaround sightseeing tour. But, there was no sign of his sister, Kim Yo Jong, who accompanied him to Singapore. • Reuters says : "Many experts on North Korea, one of the most insular and unpredictable countries in the world, remain skeptical Kim will ever completely abandon nuclear weapons. They believe Kim’s latest engagement is aimed at getting the United States to ease the crippling sanctions that have squeezed the impoverished country. A Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. side was entering the talks with a sense of optimism and an equal dose of scepticism given North Korea’s long history of developing nuclear weapons. 'We will not be surprised by any scenario,' said the official. The official said Trump and Kim would hold a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that could last up to two hours. He described it as a 'get to know you plus' meeting. Later, they would be joined by their respective negotiating teams for discussions that could last another hour." • The summit was thrown into doubt late last month after North Korea took exception to comments from national security advisor John Bolton and made clear its definition of denuclearization includes concessions from the United States. Trump canceled the meeting, but decided to move ahead with it a week later after a visit to Washington by a top North Korean official. • South Korean President Moon Jae-in was instrumental in facilitating the summit and has staked much of his political capital on a rapprochement with Pyongyang. Japan has not been engaging with North Korea itself and is counting on the US to represent its interests -- including NK’s missiles that can hit Japan and NK’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the White House last week to press Trump once more before the summit on those issues. • Suzanne DiMaggio, director and senior fellow at New America, said a statement on denuclearization is the best that can be hoped for at this point. “The best possible outcome I see for this summit is a general outline of an agreement that identifies denuclearization as the end goal of a process to be determined,” she said at a 38 North briefing. “And, for me, the best-case scenario would be, at this point, for President Trump to step back from the process and hand it over to the professional diplomats and negotiators to work out these details.” • • • DEAR READERS, trying to sort through the rumors and statement being made and reported prior ot the summit is almost impossible because we are in a playback loop in which rumors become part of official statements that become part of the next rould of rumors that feed more statements. It is a true chichen-and-egg situation for outsiders. As close as we can get to understanding what is going on comes from Sevretary of State Pompeo, who in his Monday briefing expressed an optimistic tone about the summit : “So these discussions that’ll take place tomorrow between chairman Kim and President Trump will set the framework for the hard work that will follow. And we’ll see how far we get, but I’m very optimistic that we will have a successful outcome from tomorrow’s meeting between these two leaders.” • And, so we watch and wait. Tomorrow we will know at least something about what is happening in Singapore. • Godspeed, President Trump.