A lot of commentary has gone in to analyzing and directing who was and who was not at the summit and what POTUS 45 and Chairman Kim did or did not say. Very little analysis has been presented about how this very complicated summit was actually able to happen; who made it happen; and the resulting winners and potential losers. Read below.
Motives, Objectives and Global Strategic Pacts Underscoring the Summit
The media highlighted the fact that Chairman Kim visited Beijing twice before coming to Singapore. It was also highlighted that Kim traveled on a China Airways jet to Singapore. The venue of Singapore, a hereto apolitical actor in the region that emphasized mostly economic cooperation and collaboration was a big surprise for most expecting the venue for any meeting to be Seoul Korea or Australia. Singapore was a perfect choice (see the next section on The Convener) because Singapore has a trusted relationship with the USA as well as US military base in their tiny country. Singapore also has a very close and privileged relationship with China which meant that Singapore could and did, effectively coordinate the needs, requirements, political nuances and requirements of the two mammoths in this negotiation: China and the USA.
China is the most important single power in this equation simply because only China can deliver North Korea and compliance. While they did not attend the Summit, they were very much present and omnipotent in the deliberations. Kim had a very crafted appearance, one that was played according to a Beijing-doctored playbook. For many reasons, China wants this relationship to work and POTUS 45 is the man to make it work with, mainly because Trump is open to manipulation and deal-making – which what is happening between the Whitehouse and China. And China is gaining a lot from the agreements:
It is civilizing and therefore further controlling Chairman Kim and North Korea;
It has successfully halted US-South Korea joint military maneuvers, leaving the South China Sea basically open for China;
It has successfully manipulated POTUS 45 to turn up and agree to a peace and disarmament process which is mutual so that getting rid of US forces from the Korean peninsula is imminent.
It has established a closer working relationship with Singapore, also a trusted ally of the US and other allies in the Europe and South Pacific.
POTUS has delivered the initiation of a peace and disarmament process to the USA, something inconceivable until now. He perhaps has not realized the full import of the agreements but he showed the he could do it. POTUS 45 has very specific objectives in agreeing to cancel US- South Korean joint military maneuvers – it is going to save the US tax payers very much money. He signed the agreement because he well understood that in the mix is China as a guarantor for the North Korean component of the agreement, and I would not be surprised if President Xi and POTUS agreed the outlines of this agreement at Mar do Largo in Florida earlier in the year. They have an understanding to underscore the subtext of the agreement for the subtext of the Singapore Agreement is much more significant than the actual agreement.
POTUS 45 has three objectives with regard to South Korea and US Asia Pacific Military and Security pacts: 1. that the USA can reduce safely their overseas deployments and bases thus reducing the cost structure of military deployments and bases; 2. Gain trade and economic agreements for the US in exchange for forces reduction and return of premises; 3. Where they remain, get the host country to cost-share in the deployment costs. Japan is the one exception but not a significant one because of all the controversy surrounding Okinawa, Japan will happily pay for the removal of US military from Japanese soil, contingent upon a denuclearized North Korea.
South Korea is literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand they have he desire and the momentum to make peace and reunite as an ultimate goal with North Korea – even baby steps in these directions are considered huge victories. On the other hand they have the rock solid relationship and presence of the USA both financially and militarily. President Moon has been instrumental and very tactful in how he has rocked the boat between China/NK and the USA to entice and cajole POTUS 45 towards the summit. The biggest obstacle for South Korea is to ensure a commensurate drawdown of US military forces and de facto occupation, with the growing movement towards peace treaty with North Korea and further. President Moon has succeeded so far and now he is to be congratulated and must work much harder to bring this momentum to the next level.
Japan, Australia and others
This agreement also has a significant impact upon other US allies, particularly Japan and Australia. Japan’s priority is to sort out North Korea so they are looking hopefully at this process as a chance at real change for the whole region and their own security. What they are required to deliver to the US as in-kind payment for any success in these relations would be peanuts and so Japan will gladly deliver trade and other concessions to the USA. Since 2016, Australia was posturing itself as a regional superpower, it’s conduct with refugees and blemished human rights record not withstanding. Singapore just blew that into fairy dust. Australia was not only not implicated, it was totally marginalized in all these proceedings.
Conspicuously absent from these proceedings was Russia and all the Europeans. I believe the POTUS 45 might brief President Putin himself on war transpired and I also believe that President Xi already briefed and updated President Putin at the recent China-Russia bilateral meetings in China earlier this month. Putin is informed and onboard. The Europeans are less implicated and their only hope would be a good backdoor briefing from Singapore if there is a strong relationship there which is debatable. There would be no information sharing from POTUS and while Pompeo might want to share in his role as Secretary of State, in fact his training as CIA Director would cure him of any such noble inclinations.
The Convener: Singapore
So this brings us to Singapore and its critical role in making this Summit happen and culminate in an apparent success. Prime Minister Lee was a critical element, putting his own personal credibility and ingenuity on the line to bring in POTUS 45 and reassure Chairman Kim while coordinating with China in all aspects. He and his team shone and showed the potential of Singapore to be a Regional Gatekeeper between all parties. Singapore was a perfect venue and the perfect team to host the event. They will continue to play a pivotal role from now in all things Korean and also will be the Convener of choice for all regional arbitrage.
It is like that any agreement will take a log time to agree but it can also be that an effective and mutually beneficial agreement can be worked out in Trump’s current term. POTUS will push for that to occur. Deep questions remain on the commitment and credibility of the players and their intentions but no matter how serious the doubt, a step forward remains a step forward and there has been significant progress in getting to know Chairman Kim, even if his role is scripted by China. Only time and hardworking will be ale to turn an agreement into a credible and verifiable disarmament process.