The world should welcome Trump's bold move to engage Kim Jong Un

Round one is in the books. Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE and Kim Jong Un can both claim victory, but short of an ugly incident, a walkout or an indignant tweet, “success” was always on the schedule.

Trump can say he proved the “losers and haters” wrong by presenting himself as a credible statesman and peacemaker. Kim can say his country’s flag shared the podium with the stars and stripes and its leader shared a white-hot spotlight with the president of the United States.

Trump appeared at times to want to play both actor and director, and Kim sometimes looked uncomfortable, but if we must choose a round-one winner, it would have to be the young North Korean strongman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Trump may believe he has broadened the appeal of his personal brand, and maybe he has, but it’s Kim that won an early tangible victory for his country. The one true concession came from Trump: no more of those “provocative” U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises that Pyongyang hates so much.

 

This is the “freeze-for-freeze” North Korea and China have long wanted and a move that apparently caught both South Korea and the Pentagon by surprise. 

“The Department of Defense continues to work with the White House, the interagency, and our allies and partners on the way forward,” a Pentagon spokesman told The New York Times. “We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”

In return, Kim promised to work with Trump to establish “new relations” between the two countries, to “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and to “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

The most important-sounding promise is for denuclearization, but that word is not defined. Kim did not promise to completely, verifiably and irreversibly scrap North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Nor was any timeline or deadline agreed. 

Make no mistake: The world should welcome Donald Trump’s bold move to engage Kim Jong Un. A lasting peace for the Korean Peninsula, if it can be accomplished at all, will take years to accomplish. No one should ever have expected that Trump and Kim could solve a decades-old problem in a single afternoon.

The leaders of these two nuclear-armed nations are talking about peace rather than war, and Kim has taken concrete steps to sharply improve relations with all his neighbors except Japan.

Trump can now pass the spadework to those with mastery of the technical details and begin to prep for his next big summit, probably with Vladimir Putin, maybe in Vienna. That will provide a different kind of spectacle. 

In the meantime, this week’s biggest winner is not Trump or Kim. It’s China, which saw Trump further poison relations with Europe, Canada and Japan at the Group of Seven summit, then impose new sanctions on Russia’s cyber-meddlers and then end the military exercises with South Korea that keep the Chinese on edge.

China can now take further steps to improve relations with the governments Trump seems determined to antagonize and worry less that events in Korea will spin out of control.

For those who say China wasn’t invited to the Singapore meeting, remember that Kim arrived for the event on a plane provided by Air China.

Donald Trump has spoken many times of cutting costs for the U.S. taxpayer by reducing the U.S. troop presence in South Korea or withdrawing U.S. forces altogether.

If Trump’s negotiations with Kim ever reach that stage, it will mark one more U.S. step away from Asia and another step toward regional dominance for Beijing.  

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of "Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism."