Some have already called it one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. While prematurely optimistic, the borrowing is quite apt, since it could be said that Kim Jong-Un has just made his own Moon landing (the leader of the free South Korea and his host is Moon Jae-In, geddit?). What should be briefly keep in mind when talking about this historic meeting across the demilitarised zone?
1. North Korea’s was perhaps the worst and the most diabolically oppressive regime of the 20th century, with arguably only the Khmer Rouge’s four year reign of terror in Cambodia giving the Kim dynasty a run for its blood money. Reliable data is almost impossible to come by (they don’t call North Korea a “hermit kingdom” for nothing) so the number of victims is largely a guess, but it can be estimated that in addition to some 1.5 million soldiers and civilians killed in the Korean War that Kim’s grandfather started, the three generations of the Kims have murdered or otherwise caused the deaths of somewhere between 2 and 4 million of their own people. The sheer suffering of the living is incalculable.
2. North Korea under Lil’ Kim, “the Rocket Man”, continues being the worst and the most oppressive country in the world today, even though Jong-Un probably is not killing as many people at the moment as was his father’s and grandfather’s routine. Regardless, Kim and perhaps the top one per cent of the Norko society deserve slow and painful deaths, and in a perfect and just world they would be receiving that soon.
3. You cannot trust a regime like Kim’s. North Korea has got a long history of breaking agreements and unilaterally changing policies and directions. Kim can only be truly trusted when he’s dead.
4. Having said all that, any progress on the Korean Peninsula that does not involve a conventional and/or nuclear war (which would make the first Korean War look like a picnic) or surrender and/or appeasement, is to be welcome. In most cases it is better, to borrow from Churchill, to jaw-jaw than to war-war.
5. Does Donald Trump deserve a Nobel Peace Prize? Arguably more than Obama, who got his before he had time to do anything as President, so presumably just for being Obama. But definitely not yet. It’s hard to argue that Kim’s recent actions have nothing to do with the somewhat schizophrenic position adopted by Trump – at once hard, conciliatory, and unpredictable – but it’s equally hard to argue that it’s all Trump’s doing (for example, Kim’s moratorium on nuclear testing might have more to do with the possibility raised by the Chinese geologists that his nuclear test site has simply collapsed).
6. This is not Kim Jong-Un’s first overseas visit, or for that matter a first visit in a democratic country. As a younger man, Kim has actually spent some time studying at a boarding school in Switzerland. He might be crazy and he might be cruel, but he is not ignorant of what life is like in the developed world. His country is perhaps the most closed and isolated but it is unlikely at this stage that Kim actually believes any of his own regime’s communist bullshit. It’s about power and control plain and simple.
7. Trump should approach the planned meeting with Kim with his eyes wide open. While this sort of an “art of the deal” meeting appeals to Trump, it also appeals to Kim, as it elevates his profile and standing having managed to bring the most powerful person in the world to a negotiating table. In some ways, Trump has more to lose should the meeting be a failure, including by the reason of Kim’s attitude and behaviour.
Recommendation: be 20% optimistic and 80% sceptical. Either way, some interesting days ahead.