We’ve Received Several Questions And Comments Over The Past Week About Whether Kim Jong-un Is Just “Playing” Trump By Literally Forcing His Way Onto The World Stage. We Think While That Could Be Part Of It, There’s Also Some Real Opportunity…
Yes, we are just over a week away from a sit-down involving someone who lies about everything all the time, with someone who lies about everything all the time. (As we’ve said all along: North Korea’s best bargaining chip is they know Trump wants to look good and win a Nobel Prize). Still, there are several other reasons we believe something meaningful can emerge.
Here’s How We Think It Will Play Out:
- Trump and Kim will meet.
- The only concrete result of the initial meeting will be some kind of declaration in which North Korea will voice an intent to denuclearize. Trump will depict this as meeting his demand that North Korea commit to denuclearization before any talk of lifting sanctions, etc. can take place. But it won’t be. What North Korea will most likely agree to is a broad commitment to something phased-in, little-by-little, with verification at each step. Not the unconditional “all-at-once” or “Libya model” the President and his National Security Adviser John Bolton had previously demanded. Trump’s been saying now he’s OK with a more phased-in approach (Bolton is not, but aside from nearly succeeding in talking Trump out of holding the summit at all, is keeping his mouth shut for now). Even so, Trump will try to play it off as getting what he wanted all along.
- The ironic thing is if it happens this way, the agreement could end up looking very much like the Iran nuclear deal that Trump hated so much and recently killed because it was so “rotten”. How can we be so sure of this? Because there’s really no other approach. The Iran deal involved lifting sanctions in exchange for verifiable evidence of compliance. That’s really the only option here. The big difference of course being Iran had not yet developed nuclear weapons; North Korea’s already got them.
- One other interesting thing: a big part of this deal potentially getting done is Trump not caring about human rights. Because North Korea has a dismal human rights record. As “progressive” as Kim Jong-un has suddenly fashioned himself to be, he’s responsible for the imprisonment of more than 100,000 citizens (including entire families) in brutal labor camps. He and his regime have also been implicated in politically-motivated executions, as well as kidnappings, and murders (most recently the assassination of his half-brother in an airport in Malaysia), and there’s pretty strong evidence they’ve played a major role in supporting Syria’s chemical weapons program. In a really bizarre development, the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, threw himself into the mix this weekend, saying he soon plans to be the first foreign head of state to visit Kim Jong-un in the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang.
- Also this weekend, South Korean news agency Yonhap reports that Kim has removed his three top military leaders, including his Defense Minister, replacing them with what the report describes as “moderates”. The story quotes an unnamed source saying “the previous officials lacked flexibility in thinking”. South Korean officials would not confirm the story, and there has been no official announcement from North Korean state media, but that’s not unusual.
So Then What Is Kim Jong-un’s End Game? We Believe It’s Pretty Clear: Unprecedented Economic Opportunity
And we don’t just mean lifting of sanctions. As we’ve mentioned before, since the U.S. has virtually no trade with North Korea, the success of sanctions were completely dependent on countries like China holding the line, and they did. Had the talks crumbled however, they might have just as quickly loosened and been rendered ineffective.
What we’re talking about is perhaps the most under-covered aspect of this story in U.S. media (although Trump has mentioned it several times): a huge influx of investment from China, from South Korea, from Japan, all competing to exploit North Korea’s vast, underutilized (and in some industries well-trained) labor force, as well as natural resources like minerals and timber. Before the Korean War, North Korea was actually the wealthier, more industrialized part of the country due to its wealth of natural resources. South Korea was largely poor and agrarian. Although there are many many steps and obstacles before this might happen, the commitment from these three countries could amount to nothing short of a modern-day Marshall Plan. (That was the economic recovery plan put into place in Western Europe after World War II to avoid a repeat of the economic blight after World War I that resulted in Germany quickly becoming an economic powerhouse).
Then again, North Korea might, in the end, decide not to give up its nukes after all. It is pretty used to them. And it’s the defining factor still in North Korea’s national identity.