Donald Trump is currently set to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un this week, and the plans surrounding this meeting seem to strikingly resemble the detente under which the US re-established relations with China in the 1970s.
The US, by the late 1970s, had given up on the hope of regime change in China, and had grown frustrated with the behavior of the KMT in the Republic of China, eventually negotiating behind the back of their allies to sever relations with Taiwan in favor of appeasing the communists. Kissinger at the time it seemed hoped that relations with China would stabilize world politics, with closer ties with the Chinese providing a counterweight to the Soviets. He also perhaps hoped that an opening of their economy would lead to an alignment of interests. Relations with China did manage to help provide a semblance of political balance in Asia, however the threat of the Soviet Union would not last long. In regards to the latter, he was sadly mistaken, and the world has been dealing with the political repercussions ever since with China becoming perhaps the single most pernicious state and a powerful spoiler of US interests around the world.
The rise of China has perhaps been the singularly most destabilizing issue in the past half century, giving China the resources to prop up other authoritarian regimes throughout Asia, including Cambodia, Zimbabwe, and their enabling of the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Their integration with the world economy has led to an intensification of Chinese authoritarianism as well, their economic growth providing a means and an excuse for their brutal repression. If 1970s Republicans thought that integration and trade would reduce authoritarian tendencies, they clearly thought wrong.
One parallel between the current talks and the 1970s detente is the weakness of ties with our allies who have the largest stake in the North Korea negotiations, South Korea. Our allies for the better part of a century, Trump and his narcissistic inferiority complex has led him to repeatedly clash with the South Korean president, and even threaten to remove troops stationed there. His ineptitude and utter lack of understanding of even the most basic geopolitical precepts regarding alliances and American strategic interests the greatest danger posed by these talks.
The US, firstly, should not set aside South Korea’s interests in these negotiations, as Kissinger once cast aside Taiwan because of the sycophantic sinophilia of the regimes he advised. It must take South Korea’s interests into account, and combine them with American interests.
The most basic question to be asked before the negotiations is, what is the end goal for North Korea? Some in American foreign policy spheres seek regime change, although Trump has a sick fetish for authoritarians, and as long as he naively considers Kim a “friend” in his infantile conception of geopolitics, this aim is likely already lost. Is it denuclearization? Formerly this was a precursor to talks, but Trump’s absolute inability to extract the slightest concession from the North Koreans in regard to their nuclear development other than a temporary and meaningless freeze in their missile testing means that he likely lacks the means to provide enough pressure or incentives to accomplish this. So if the US has completely abandoned all of its strategic interests before the negotiations have even begun, what could the US possibly hope to gain from sections relief?
It is possible that Trump is incapable of understanding larger US and Korean interests, much less willing to hold them above the cheap ego games that leaders smarter than him have been willing to play, placing personalistic relationships over national aims.
The public mumblings about the deal that Trump may be willing to sign, including pushes towards the opening of economic zones, train routes between the Koreas, and sanctions relief in exchange for more unverifiable double dealing on the part of the Kim regime do not bode well. To be clear, the US stands to gain nothing from the economic liberalization of North Korea.
As has been seen with China, economic liberalization neither leads to an alignment of interests, nor a political liberalization. It can instead exacerbate and empower repression.
Is this a repeat of the 1970s another concessions package from a soft leader to the most disgustingly cruel regime on the face of the earth, in exchange for absolutely nothing but a childish hope that this may somehow lead to political liberalization?
It certainly seems so, and it is clear that some people will never learn their lessons.
Trump has shown that he is willing to sell out American values and American allies for which American blood was shed. He is no true American, he is a con artist and draft-dodger turned politician, and the American people need to ensure that North Korean defiance should be met with strength instead of kowtowing to totalitarian communists and tyrants.
We should maintain relations with North Korea, and we should not ratchet up the risk of conflict, but neither should we give one scrap of comfort to those enemies of the values that American blood has been shed over for generations, without any real hope for making the Korean peninsula a freer and safer place.
Staff writer: Ari B
Photo: Manpo, North Korea