Friday, March 09, 2018

A few, not very consequential, thoughts on the Korea front


Traditional media can't seem to stop repeating a tired cliche about the POTUS's decision to talk with North Korea's Kim Jong-un: "No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader." So what and about time! Using our words in preference to insults and fists is taught in kindergarten these days; we should be glad when this elementary notion penetrates the Oval Office, however little trust we may have in the current occupant. Presidents should have been talking with North Korean leaders decades ago -- and finding a way to reach a peace treaty on the divided peninsula.

On the other hand, the Trump meets Kim reality show is a charade. Peace in Korea requires peace between the two Koreas and an evolving regional settlement that supersedes the resentments and fears both Koreas hold toward their former colonial masters in Tokyo.

The brilliant actor in the present moment is South Korea's President Moon. He knows what he has to do:

Mr. Trump’s head-spinning decision to accept an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, amounts to a remarkable diplomatic coup for Mr. Moon, who engineered the rapprochement in a whirlwind of diplomacy ...Not only has Mr. Moon steered two headstrong, erratic adversaries away from a military conflict that could have been devastating for his nation, he has maneuvered the Trump administration into pursuing negotiations that it has long resisted — but that he and his allies on South Korea’s political left have long pressed for. ... he has gone to great lengths to play to Mr. Trump’s ego, repeatedly thanking the American president for his support and crediting his policies for bringing Mr. Kim to the negotiating table.

Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, March 9, 2018

In another Times article, Mark Landler writes and/or the NYT copy desk passes on, the phrase, "Since taking power last May, Mr. Moon ..." I think we used to call what new presidents of democracies did "taking office," not "taking power." But I'm an old fogey.

As is so often true these days, a Washington Post reporter seems to have the most cogent observation on the men and their coming meeting:

“The thing that they have in common is that both of them think that they can outsmart the other,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum think tank, and a regular interlocutor with North Korean officials. “We’ll have to wait to see who’s right.”

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