What you need to know
Trump has shown Kim the ultimate kindness in offering him everything and receiving nothing in return.
The historic first summit meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea resulted in an agreement that leaves the North’s leader firmly at the controls of his rocket ship.
The full text of the document signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un, as reported by Reuters, is light on detail but plays badly for anyone who expected a comprehensive agreement that plotted a path to North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
Here is the essence:
1. The United States and the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
As Kim suggested after the summit, this does indeed represent “a major change” but it is not one that we should be cheering.
Ostensibly, the DPRK’s Supreme Leader has pledged to work towards the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, and this should be applauded.
But there is no detail as to the mechanism through which this work will be monitored, verified as complete and deemed irreversible, as per the conditions set out by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prior to the talks in Singapore.
That work is to be undertaken at a follow-up summit, as stipulated in the document’s supplementary text: “The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official … to implement the outcomes of the U.S.-DPRK summit.”
In return for this commitment to uphold a pledge already offered in the Panmunjom Declaration, signed between Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on April 27, 2018, Trump has blithely invited Kim to the top table, provided him the veneer of international respectability, including a stream of ill-advised photo opportunities, and come away from the resort island of Sentosa with very little indeed.
Where are the details on denuclearization that some commentators suggested the Panmunjom Declaration lacked precisely to leave the door open for Trump to claim credit?
To be fair, there is still time for that to happen, and few expected this meeting to result in a lasting solution to the nuclear issue.
But if the aim of the summit was to build trust, was there really a need for the U.S. side to offer concessions that also include a commitment “to provide security guarantees to the DPRK?”
Such pledges, cast alongside the promise to establish diplomatic relations, can only be viewed as total capitulation to the nuclear brinkmanship of a murderous dictator.
Trump has welcomed Kim and given him the treatment commensurate with a legitimate leader of an established nuclear power. He even told Kim it was “a great honor to be with you” in what one can only imagine was a moment in which Trump enjoyed schadenfreude at the rest of the world's expense.
Moreover, the summit offered no reference to the litany of human rights abuses that Kim has overseen, summed up in this New York Times headline as “Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions” and fleshed out at length in this 2014 United Nations Human Rights Council report.
The UN report found the North Korean leadership and Kim Jong-un himself personally responsible for “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations [entailing] crimes against humanity based on State policies.”
The commission that produced that report was chaired by former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, who has persistently drawn attention to the absence of reference to human rights in either the Panmunjom Declaration or the preliminary discussions around the Trump-Kim summit.
His sentiments were this week echoed by Human Rights Watch's Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton, who suggested that Trump has broken U.S. law by failing to make reference to human rights in the discussions.
And it is not as if we have not been here before. The Twittersphere was quick to highlight the similarly vague, and ultimately unfulfilled assurances offered under the Joint Statement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States of America on June 11, 1993.
That agreement pledged “assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons; Peace and security in a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, including impartial application of fullscope safeguards, mutual respect for each other's sovereignty, and non-interference in each other's internal affairs; and support for the peaceful reunification of Korea.”
That was almost 25 years ago to the day. In the interim, North Korea has continually reneged on a pledges and agreements, proving itself to be the most unreliable of international actors.
So, well done, Kim. You are well on your way to achieving your "parallel advance" policy of pursuing nuclear weapons and economic growth, known as byungjin.
Having achieved the first track of this goal, Kim is pivoting towards the second, and it appears he is set to be warmly welcomed into the neo-liberal trading fraternity, at least if Trump has anything to do with it.
Trump and his advisers have already stated that they are prepared to allow U.S. companies to invest in North Korea in return for denuclearization, opening the door for their cronies to cash in on a potential lifting of sanctions and a liberalization of the North Korean economy.
As the Straits Times quoted South Korea's former unification minister Lee Jong-seok as saying, Kim is "seeking the kind of rapid economic growth seen in China."
Offering Kim the same blueprint that was offered to the Communist Party of China is not a cause for celebration, but sadness in the face of lamentable defeat.