The 'Invisible Presence' at the Singapore Summit
June 8, 2018
By Mel Pearlman 2018
The diplomatic world is aglow with optimism regarding the apparent and sudden turnabout of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, as he appears to have overnight transformed from nuclear bully to a peace-loving flower. His rapprochement with South Korea and renunciation of his nuclear program has won him a summit meeting with President Trump in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
Since the two heads of state share similar egotistical personalities and erratic mindsets it comes as no surprise that there would be bumps and surprises along the way, which as of this writing, makes the scheduled summit meeting an on-again/off-again affair. Kim’s initial peaceful posture and subsequent belligerence, justified the U.S. cancellation of the summit; and Kim’s subsequent reversal of hostility after further “consultations” with China, justified the American reconsideration to attend the on-again summit.
Kim, at a very young age, took over the country from his late father who in turn inherited this dictatorial country from its communist founder, Kim’s grandfather. Each of their respective regimes has been characterized by sheer brutality, enslavement, torture, starvation and complete isolation from the outside world. In addition, no North Korean leader has ever kept any international agreement with the United States or the West.
Soon after taking office from his deceased father, the young and inexperienced Kim unceremoniously had his own uncle summarily executed so as to remove him as a threat to his power. Not to be outdone by this crime, he arranged for his half brother to be murdered by hired assassins who intercepted and gassed him to death on Feb. 13, 2017, while he was passing through Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.
Of course President Trump is taking all the credit for Kim’s almost surreal conversion and attributing his own success in doing so by out-bullying Kim and threatening North Korea with massive destruction should Kim point his nuclear tipped rockets at the United States or any of its Asian allies. Hard-core Trump supporters, but not “everyone” as the president contends, are talking about another premature and unearned Nobel Peace prize, the first of course being awarded to President Obama. President Trump is a long way from winning or even being considered for the prize.
Was it in fact a true change of heart by a repentant Kim or a rational and thoughtful decision to reverse his belligerent nuclear policy as a result of the U.S. stance? I definitely think we can rule out the former. But what about the latter? Was Kim and his gangster government even capable of responding rationally to U.S threats?
Not long after the hostile verbal exchanges between the U.S. and North Korea became so hot that it brought the reality of imminent war on the Korean Peninsula into the public conversation, another significant event occurred. Kim was summoned to Beijing by President Xi for an “amicable discussion” of the situation which the Chinese leadership concluded was getting out of hand. Make no mistake about the fact that China, while giving Kim a long leash, calls the international policy shots in North Korea.
If you want to know how this is going to turn out, look to China’s interests in East and Southeast Asia. China is in the process of building up its armed forces, not to go to war, but to globally challenge American leadership. China understands that its own economic growth to sustain its military build-up and keep its people content is dependent on good economic and other relations with the U.S. This is not an easy task given the erratic behavior of the two summit participants. A successful outcome of the summit meeting between Kim and President Trump is a little more likely with the “invisible presence” of the Chinese leader at the negotiating table.
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Mel Pearlman has been practicing law in Central Florida for the past 45 years. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; on the District VII Mental Health Board, as Special Prosecutor for the City of Winter Park, Florida; and on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Research and Development Authority. He was a charter member of the Board of Directors and served as the first Vice President of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as its first pro-bono legal counsel.