Singapore Summit: China is the biggest winner

June 14, 2014

The Biggest Winner at the U.S.-North Korea Summit: China

by Evan Osnos

Image result for singapore summit commemorative coin

Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things,” President Trump told reporters in Singapore on Tuesday night, after signing a page of loose declarations with Kim Jong Un. “I may stand before you in six months and say,‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” Perhaps no truer words were spoken at the Singapore summit, where Donald Trump, with a handshake and a shrug, opened a new phase in Asia that will eventually reveal him to be either a visionary who saw a path to peace where others did not or a dupe who squandered American credibility. He announced the opening of contact with North Korea with the bonhomie of a developer at a groundbreaking: he hailed an “excellent relationship” with a “talented” counterpart, and shooed away questions about timetables and the risk of default. He made no mention of Kim’s accelerated testing of missiles and nuclear weapons, or of his own threats, via Twitter last year, to “totally destroy” North Korea. He handed off the substantive work to his Cabinet, a team that is already sharply divided between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has expressed high hopes for peace, and the national-security adviser, John Bolton, who has argued for years that North Korea cannot be trusted.

Image result for Trump and Kim on Sentosa Island

Kim-Trump Singapore Summit

Compared with the expectations for the summit—or with previous agreements—there was much that Trump failed to get. There was no exchange of liaison offices and no pledge to improve human rights. “I do not see what can really possibly hold in this remarkably imprecise and nonbinding document,” Andrei Lankov, a longtime North Korea watcher at Kookmin University, in Seoul, said. “It is truly remarkable how Donald Trump, being in such a strong negotiating position, has managed to get so little from the North Koreans.” For Trump, the goal, apparently, was the handshake itself. In his view, cheerful patter is easy and inexpensive, and he can renounce the positive vibes on a whim, as needed. In the annals of diplomacy, though, the risks of casual declarations abound. Most apropos in this case is George W. Bush’s first official trip to Europe as President, when he was asked if he trusted Vladimir Putin, and famously replied, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy—I was able to get a sense of his soul.” (Condoleezza Rice later lamented that response, writing, “We were never able to escape the perception that the President had naïvely trusted Putin and then been betrayed.”)

Trump appears to have decided that the chance of a breakthrough is worth the risk of looking naïve. “I do trust him, yeah,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, in answer to the inevitable question about Kim. “He really wants to do a great job for North Korea. He’s de-nuking the whole place, and I think he’s going to start very quickly. He really wants to do something, I think, terrific for their country.”

What Kim really wants, however, may not be what Trump has in mind. “North Korean media wrote at remarkable length about Kim Jong Un’s trip to Singapore,” Lankov told me. State cameramen made a point of filming attentive, prosperous Singaporeans, a montage that will be used to fortify Kim’s image and to promote the prospect of economic reforms. The Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s major official newspaper, dedicated a large part of its front page to celebrating Singapore’s authoritarian capitalism. “The island state was praised on a scale one seldom sees in the North Korean newspapers,” Lankov added. But, in its early reports, North Korean media made conspicuously little mention of the substance of the summit, and Pyongyang gave no sign that the state is preparing its public to stop celebrating nuclear weapons as a singular achievement.

In fact, as expected, North Korea made no specific commitments about dismantling its nuclear program. In the joint statement, Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”—a reference to previous agreements, going back to 1992, which have not held. By far, the largest concession in the talks came from Trump, who announced his willingness to freeze joint military exercises with South Korean forces. For months, Trump’s aides described a freeze as a non-starter, but, on Tuesday, he adopted North Korea’s view that the exercises are, as he put it, “very provocative” and said that the suspension would “save us a tremendous amount of money.”

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Trump freezes joint military exercises with South Korean forces.That is no minor concession

That is no minor concession. The next round of war games with South Korea was scheduled to take place in August. After the announcement, Patrick Cronin, an Asia specialist at the Center for a New American Security, told me that joint exercises are designed to deter North Korea from attacks on the South, such as the sinking, in 2010, of the Cheonan, a naval vessel, which killed forty-six seamen. Deterrence relies on “a degree of professionalism and readiness for crisis response that can only come through military training and exercises,” he said. “If North Korea is not moving toward significant disclosure of its nuclear forces and then taking significant, verifiable steps in the direction of denuclearization, then we should resume pressure, including major exercises, by next spring.”

More surprising still, Trump raised the previously taboo prospect of withdrawing some of America’s nearly thirty thousand troops in South Korea. “I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home,” he said. That may have been improvisation. Hours earlier, Defense Secretary James Mattis had told reporters, “I don’t believe” that troops were up for negotiation. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and usually a Trump defender, said on NBC that he would “violently disagree” with any removal of troops from South Korea.

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“Trump may have also precipitated an outcome that he does not fully grasp: by suspending military exercises, and alluding to removing troops from South Korea, he will stir doubts about the strength of America’s commitment to its allies in Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. They will have no choice but to begin to reimagine America’s role in the region, and their relationships to Beijing.”–Evan Osnos

Nobody greeted the news from Singapore with more delight than China. For years, Chinese officials have urged Trump to freeze military exercises in South Korea, which Beijing regards as a threatening gesture in its neighborhood. Shortly after the announcement, the Global Times, a nationalist state newspaper in Beijing, hailed Trump’s move in an editorial headlined “End of ‘War Games’ Will Be a Big Step Forward for Peninsula.” Elizabeth Economy, a China specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me, “The Chinese are breathing a deep sigh of relief. They got what they most wanted.” She added, “And, best of all, it came out of President Trump’s mouth. The Chinese didn’t even have to rely on Kim Jong Un to do their bidding.”

Any negotiations in the months and years ahead will be fraught: the United States will need to get Kim to provide a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. International inspectors will seek to verify them. Only then can the U.S. begin to imagine dismantling them. But, more immediately, Trump may have also precipitated an outcome that he does not fully grasp: by suspending military exercises, and alluding to removing troops from South Korea, he will stir doubts about the strength of America’s commitment to its allies in Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. They will have no choice but to begin to reimagine America’s role in the region, and their relationships to Beijing. From Trump’s perspective, the encounter with Kim was an end in itself. For those who bear the consequences of his words and actions, this is just the beginning.

Image result for evan osnos new yorker
  • Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, and covers politics and foreign affairs. He is the author of “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”


14 thoughts on “Singapore Summit: China is the biggest winner

  1. The Donald : is there any strongman-dictator he does not like ??

    (somehow, I am reminded of history’s Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of the
    1930s. In Singapore, we had a neofascist would-be dictator and a
    Stalinist dictator signing an agreement with each other).

  2. If Trump or anyone think they are going to get Kim Jung Un to dismantle his nuclear arsenal to trade for prosperity, they are going to sorely dissapointed. Anyone who has a clue of these regimes will understand its just not even in the realm of possibility. What can happen is looking like North Korea will not attack US in return for prosperity. The only real denuclearization plan possible with North Korea is when prosperity makes it illogical for them to destablize their neigbours and market.

    That is the stark truth.

  3. The heated talk of the day recently is about the Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore. The concessions Donald Trump floated during his summit with Kim Jong Un are drawing growing criticism from members of Trump’s own party, who argue that Trump gave up too much during the talks. They are angry that Trump meeting with Kim has legitimized North Korea status in the world with the nuclear bombs. Most Americans believe North Korea is the winner from this summit. But I believe China is the biggest winner from the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. Kim Jong Un visited Xi Jinping twice before meeting with Trump. He must have received valuable tips from Xi how to handle the narcissistic and egoistic Trump.

    The Chinese couldn’t be happier with Trump’s pledge to halt joint military exercises with South Korea and eventually withdraw the near 30,000 American troops stationed there. The Chinese have always told the Americans that the use of force, or the threat of the use of force, is not a good thing. China believes that the Singapore summit itself — and the fact that the US and North Korea have committed to holding ongoing talks — meant that Washington didn’t need to keep troops in South Korea much longer. Beijing has long wanted the US to withdraw those forces, and it seems that Trump now feels the same way. “I want to get our soldiers out,” Trump told reporters after his meeting with Kim, though he cautioned that a withdrawal “wasn’t part of the equation right now.”

    That wasn’t Trump’s only gift to China. Last November, Xi Jinping proposed that Washington suspend its military drills with South Korea in exchange for North Korea agreeing to freeze its nuclear program. Trump flatly rejected the idea at the time. After meeting with Kim, however, Trump effectively adopted Xi’s proposal. “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money,” Trump said. “Plus, I think it’s very provocative.”

    For once I believe Trump was right to look for ways of addressing what the American called “the legitimate security concerns of North Korea” over the military exercises and US troop presence. I hate to admit Trump was right this time. But like they say, even a broken clock that stops running is right at least twice a day!

  4. The Cold War “Containment” of Communist China has un-officially ended.

    Whether it’s good for China, well, yes; whether it’s good for the rest of East Asia and the rest of the World, probably, depending on the US presidents that follow on from Trump and the US military-industrial complex which controls most presidents.

  5. We will see. Only time will tell. Between now and then anything can happen. In the meantime some suggestions on how to skin the cat cam make a contribution to find a solution to this intractable problem.
    Hari Raya Idilfitri

  6. The Donald Trump drama is getting more and more interesting. I am enjoying every minute of it. The New York Attorney General sues the Trump Family for being a criminal family.The lawsuit accuses the Trump Foundation which is Donald, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump of using their charity to engage in a pattern of persistent illegal conduct, including illegally assisting Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The lawsuit would probably be shrugged off by the Trumps if not for the mention of the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, identifying possible violations of federal law for further investigation and legal action by those federal agencies. The IRS was what sent Al Capone to prison.

    The lawsuit makes it clear. The Trumps are a crime family. They engage in persistent and chronic illegal behavior. Lawbreaking is how they do business. The lawsuit is devastating because it has gotten the IRS involved, and IRS involvement means real criminal charges. The lawsuit also appears to be the first step in a much bigger investigation of Trump and his organization. The immediate political problem is that Trump was just called a criminal by the state of New York.

    The longer-term problem is that the state of New York is building a criminal case against the POTUS and his family, and Trump can’t pardon his way out of state charges. Attorney General Barbara Underwood spelled it out in black and white. The Trumps are a crime family. As expected, Donald Trump blows a gasket over this lawsuit. Trump went off on an unhinged rant after the New York Attorney General who sued his family for criminal activity related to the Trump Foundation. He tweeted:

    “So, the Democrats make up a phony crime, Collusion with the Russians, pay a fortune to make the crime sound real, illegally leak (Comey) classified information so that a Special Councel will be appointed, and then Collude to make this pile of garbage take on life in Fake News!”

    “The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000. I won’t settle this case!…”

    “….Schneiderman, who ran the Clinton campaign in New York, never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case, which lingered in their office for almost 2 years. Now he resigned his office in disgrace, and his disciples brought it when we would not settle.”

    The fact that these Trump tweets only have gotten 16,000-22,000 retweets from his followers is a sign. Trump is the boy who cried wolf. Every lawsuit and investigation of him or his family is called fake news and a Democratic plot. This is the Trump playbook. When he gets busted, he screams fake news, Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic plot. The problem is that the act is wearing thin. The hardcore Trump cultists who tune into Sean Hannity each night for their dose of propaganda will lap it up, but for everyone else, Trump’s protests have become redundant.

    Trump’s protests are losing their impact, and his ranting suggests that he knows that the worst is yet to come.

  7. Not really.
    They will be more prosperous and still get to keep their power toys.
    Obama tried that with Cuba. The jury’s still out.
    Carter with the help of LKY, brought Deng out from the cold. Look at PRC today, more prosperous and powerful.
    Having said that, a transformed PRK facilitated by the auspicious mantra of prosper thy neighbour,, will contribute to a more peaceful world, if not, a less volatile Korean peninsula.

  8. The biggest winner is South Korea. Credit is overdue to the other protagonist, President Moon Jae-in for having the courage to genuinely pursue peace. A first generation S. Korean of N. Korean refugee parents, he bears closer affinity and kinship with the N. Koreans unlike his predecessors before him.
    Trump may hog the limelight to claim credit but he is just a facilitator, like President Xi Jumping.

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