Kim Jong-Un’s Survival Strategy
In order to lure Donald Trump to a meeting with Kim Jong-Un, the South Korean administration is flattering Donald Trump that the change of Kim Jong-Un’s position is due to his severe sanctions and threats. Instead, we should look for the real origin of the coming meeting between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump at a conference in Vladivostok in early September 2017. Vladimir Putin was the host and the two Koreas, Japan and China were participants. What the president of Russia was seeking was a merging of the economic interests of the five members of the conference. The plan that was proposed by Putin was to build natural gas and oil pipelines through North Korea to the rich markets of South Korea and Japan. The seventeen kilometer border between Russia and North Korea makes the Hermit Kingdom the perfect corridor to the nearby rich markets.
At the end of the conference, four of the members agreed on the general plan of integration and to hold a six party conference with the United States was included. North Korea did not disagree; and that was a subtle sign that Kim Jong-Un’s attitude was changing. The next step on September 29th came when Oleg Burmistrov, Russia’s ambassador-at-large, met secretly with Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American Department of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry in Moscow. Why was he there when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing?
It is because it is the Russian pipelines that will give the North access to vital energy sources and give Kim transit revenue. The only problem between the reality and the dream is the imposition of sanctions. Somehow, the sanctions have to be lifted; and the Olympics arrived just in time.
Between the close of the Vladivostok conference and the opening of the Olympic Games, Kim Jong-Un indicated that his nuclear weapons program has reached such a level of development that further testing could be curtailed. Sports and cultural contacts with Seoul was another sign of change.
Kim Jong-Un left it to the Chinese to leak his position. During Kim Jong-Un’s visit to Beijing in March, Xinhua reported that he repeated the long standing policy of Pyongyang to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. That translates into the North destroying its nuclear arsenal and the departure of the U.S. forces from the South along with a peace treaty. It is a term that Kim can offer, because it will be refused by Seoul and by Washington. The nuclear weapons and the U.S. forces are Kim’s dual defense against a Chinese invasion that changes in Chinese interpretations of history have made a real possibility.
According to the Academy of Social Sciences in a study from 2004, Korea had been a territory of China. Once Chinese always Chinese and the revised history is being taken as a threat by Seoul and Pyongyang of future intensions. Kim had his Uncle Chang executed for conspiring with China to implement a coup and to install his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, who Kim Jong-Un had assassinated in Malaysia.
North Korea’s economic dependency upon China limits its response to Chinese threats. Ninety percent of North Korean trade passes through China that Pyongyang claims is over charging and under paying. There is a gradual shift in the economic bonds towards Russia that offers better terms. When China closed the single internet link, Russia opened two new links. Russia is seeing that the North receives its fifteen thousand barrels of oil needed daily and is marketing North Korean goods in Central Asia.
Whatever the underlying reality, Kim has to maintain the diplomatic fiction that China has an important role in the coming negotiation. Xi Jinping telephoned Donald Trump to inform him that Kim Jong-Un was eager to meet. It was more of the Trump ego pampering; and Donald Trump just had to tell everyone all about it. What is worrisome is that Donald Trump is treating the meeting as an act of generosity to Kim Jong-Un and he expects to be rewarded. The secret trip by Pompeo to meet Kim Jong-Un illustrates just how important to Donald Trump the conference is. He needs some kind of an achievement to pump up is international reputation as a world leader.
The two Koreas met this April to prepare the ground work for the unprecedented meeting. There are some common objectives that both are seeking. What both want is the reductions of the sanctions in order to have the Russians stretch their pipelines into the new markets and a reduction in Donald Trump’s inclination to threaten to attack.
What ego pampering that it will take to convince Donald Trump that he has achieved a great victory without something far less than the submission of “the Little Rocket Man” is yet to be revealed. Suspending testing is about as far as Kim Jong-Un can go without facing a coup by a military unwilling to relinquish the nuclear weapons that puts it on the same level as China, Russia, and the United States. As long as Kim Jong-Un can keep China checkmated, he can turn to the economic development of the impoverished Hermit Kingdom and to slip out of the Chinese sphere of control; and it is Donald J. Trump that is the obstacle and the solution.