North Korea has come in out of the cold — a positive step

North Korea has come in out of the cold — a positive step
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The historic summit between the United States and North Korea witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of media attention.

Even late evening newscasts on the East Coast were interrupted to catch screen shots of smiling and waving Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un as they walked to their one-on-one meeting with only their interpreters tagging along.

The world media slant on talks has been varied with the usual mainstream American coverage holding the president failed in immediately obtaining “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” as often phrased by Trump officials.

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Other news outlets proclaimed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or China the winner of the summit sweepstakes. Japan and South Korea, of course, lost in this assessment. Some even deduced a Chinese failure.

 

The reality is that it is far too soon to declare winners and losers. One sure thing is that the political configuration in East Asia has changed for good. Of course, there are likely to be crisis points and backsliding by both Washington and Pyongyang in the denuclearization process begun at the Singapore summit. This process will remain a work in progress for years.

The DPRK has come out of the cold. Yes, the leadership will strive to keep the larger population in the dark. But information and pictures of the outside modern, prosperous world will accelerate as they did behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

Pyongyang cannot engage the United States without glimpses beyond the regime’s drab walls seeping into even propaganda videos. Already the North’s media coverage casts President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE in a better light than in the pre-summit days.

Any North Korean in Kim’s entourage walking on a hastily arranged waterfront tour in downtown Singapore on the Monday evening before the next day summit could not have resisted drawing comparisons between the alluring splendor of the skyline there and the lights-out buildings at home.

The unscripted excursion included officials from the city state’s government. Singaporean bystanders snapped pictures and posted them on social media along with comments that could be accessed by devices in North Korea.

It is this type of opening up that President Trump places so much store on to transform the dystopian nuclear rogue dictatorship into a peaceful, thriving Western-orientated state.

It is interesting to recall that the Obama administration also sought in its 2015 agreement to return Iran to the normal international community after decades of belligerence, terrorism and nuclear development.

That goal floundered as Tehran persisted in expanding its influence in the Middle East via terrorist movements. It also test-launched a series of missiles.

There can be no doubt that Chairman Kim’s engagement of the United States is dictated by self-interests. He wants sanction relief from American and U.N. sanctions over his now-suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests.

He would welcome financial assistance and, of course, respect, acceptance and international standing for his isolated and impoverished country. The young dictator has gambled for a U.S. deal by releasing three American prisoners, ceasing nuclear arms and rocket test-firings and even staging a destruction of some nuclear facilities.

The question to ask is whether Kim Jong Un, who flamboyantly basked in the world’s limelight at the Capella Singapore hotel, is the genuine article or a Mao-suited charlatan. Should he be the latter, he will ruin his own prestige but also that of President Trump.

What should Donald Trump do? He can’t rest on his laurels. He must push supremely hard to destroy, eliminate and remove the lion’s share of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities before the next presidential election in 2020.

This ensures his reputation and spares the United States from the consequences of another Obama-type red-line-drawer in the White House, should the 45th president lose at the polls.

Another goal, which Trump can execute better than most recent presidents, is to move the DPRK from China’s column toward the United States. North Korea will strive to play off Washington against Beijing. But at some later date, there is the possibility that Pyongyang will realize the United States is a better friend to have than China.

A geographically distant benefactor is better than an overweening bully next door, which seeks to treat its current neighbor as a pawn in its drive for regional hegemony.

There are precedents for such changeovers. China itself, in the early 1970s, abandoned its fraternal communist ally the Soviet Union for warmer relations with the United States. Across the globe at the same time, Egypt, an authoritarian friend of Moscow, left the Kremlin fold for Washington.

The Singapore summit changed the old dynamics and raised the prospects for a geostrategic revolution in East Asia. If the DPRK doesn’t realign its foreign relations, it will end up being “Finland-ized” by the People’s Republic of China. 

Thomas H Henriksen is a Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and the author of, "America and the Rogue States," (Palgrave, 2012).