ERIC WALSH. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Apr 23, 2018

The highly- important upcoming meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and America’s Donald Trump  could hopefully  settle one of the world’s red-hot trouble spots.

It’s disturbing indeed to know we are dealing with a highly erratic national leader, one whose word is suspect on many key topics, who has contradictory positions in important and sometimes dangerous situations, who makes wild and irresponsible threats to a potential opponent, who is held in scant regard internationally and who has a ridiculous haircut with his hand on a button (of whatever size) that could in an instant start only the world’s second nuclear conflict. 

Equally disturbing is the fact that North Korea, the other side of this argument, has such a leader as well.

It’s puzzling that two men, one of whom two months ago was threatening America’s allies, Japan and South Korea, and boasting of his capacity to nuclear strike almost any American mainland city and the second who was threatening ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’, both say they are looking forward to their proposed meeting.

Equally puzzling is the fact that North Korea has already publicly conceded most of the issues which were to form the substance of the upcoming discussions. 

Kim has said that his country will cease nuclear testing and destroy one of its testing grounds and will stop further experimentation with its intercontinental missiles.

What he hasn’t said is what might be asked of America in return for these concessions. Surely they’re not going to be ceded without some reciprocation.

Might it be the removal of America’s 38,000 troops from South Korea and possibly also from Japan. Could it be the cessation of the annual large-scale military exercises conducted between South Korea and the United States under the concerned observation of North Korea; could it be the dismantling of the missile protection systems America has provided South Korea and Japan? 

Given the recent developments, one could be excused for thinking there will be an invisible third influence at the upcoming conference.

This would be China’s President Xi for whom all the above would be as agreeable as they would be to North Korea.

That the North Koreans have changed tone on issues which only weeks ago were beyond compromise immediately after Kim’s only overseas visit while in office, to China, invites the view that it was China, North Korea’s only active ally in the world, which has brought about the change rather than a change of heart in the North Korean leader himself. And Xi who loses nothing in political smarts compared with the bumbling Donald Trump would be highly unlikely not to demand substantial benefits in a way which if ceded would be of considerable benefit to both China and North Korea and if refused would make America look like the stumbling block in a situation which is of concern throughout the world.

If China is in fact involved, as appears probable, it’s unlikely that they would see much benefit to China from the mere easing of sanctions against their ally. 

They would manoeuvre to gain considerably more. 

Without the urging, or perhaps even demands from China, it is hard to believe that Kim would voluntarily dismantle a military system on which billions have been spent and seek nothing in return.  North Korea and perhaps their ally China are capable of putting America into an extremely uncomfortable position by refusing concessions Kim might demand if they genuinely wish to defuse the explosive situation now existing on the Korean peninsula.

Like Banjo Patterson’s Mulga Bill – of bicycle fame – Donald Trump immodestly sees himself as “good all round at everything as everybody knows”; he is “a genius and a balanced one at that” and on the particular problem of Korea, he is, he claims, responsible for forcing his upcoming dialogue with Kim, for making possible next week’s meeting between South Korea’s President Moon and the North Korean leader and it was his diplomatic toughness which was solely responsible for the recent success of the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

America has had presidents before who are inadequate in foreign affairs and perhaps in other areas.  They have tended to surround themselves with advisers and cabinet members who are themselves highly competent.

Trump has not bothered with such trivia to help him through an awkward situation that he seems to have been manoeuvred into by North Korea and China.  

To help him through, he has the dubious talent of two mediocre hawks in Mike Pompeo and John Bolton backed up by members of his immediate family whose abilities match his own.

The world is in for an interesting few weeks waiting on the outcome of Trump’s much-publicised meeting. 

There’ll be no surprise if the Donald doesn’t come through looking like an out and out winner.

Eric Walsh was a senior correspondent in the Canberra Press Gallery for many years and press secretary to Gough Whitlam.

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