Friday, June 15, 2018

To Unify the Koreas, the U.S. Should Do Nothing

Almost a year ago, President Trump called the Third Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "little rocket man". On June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim are meeting in Singapore. It's a historic event, because no sitting U.S. President has ever met with a North Korean head of state. So, what’s really going on here? It seems that the meeting is not only about disarmament - but trade. It's my belief, however, that the best way to deal with DPRK is to do nothing; it appears to be on the verge of collapse anyways. 

Although the official reason for the Trump-Kim Summit is to discuss demilitarization of North Korea, it appears that this meeting has more to do with economics. Immediately before meeting with Kim and calling Canada’s prime minister “dishonest” and “weak”, Trump defined his priority by tweeting on June 10th, 2018: "Why should I . . . allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay? Not fair to the PEOPLE of America! $800 Billion Trade Deficit”. 

In other words, Trump is saying that the priority is for American corporate profits to increase, and the reason that American businesses aren't making as much is because of unfair international agreements, which exports American wealth abroad. But what does that have to do with North Korea? 

Consistent with theme of keeping your friends close (or not so close in Trump's case), and your enemies closer, Trump has befriended Russia and extended the olive branch to the DPRK. So like Nixon, Trump knows that wooing a hostile country, which has been historically closed to the West, can exploit its resources and offer cheap labor. 

Nixon visited Communist China in 1972 and hence, ushered in Sino-trade for the West. By doing so, corporations were able to increase their profits for themselves and shareholders by shifting labor costs to the East. 

Besides cheap labor, North Korea also has resources. Its main resources are coal and iron. Apparently, they even outperform South Korea in trade here. Quartz estimates that North Korea has $6 to $10 trillion USD in mineral resource, which according to it, includes “iron, gold, magnesite, zinc, copper, limestone, molybdenum, graphite, and more[,]” some of which are needed for “smartphones and other high-tech products." 

Given these facts, now consider UN Resolution 2371, passed on September 5, 2017. 2371 bans China from importing North Korean iron or coal. And to further complicate matters, UN Resolution 2375 passed on September 11, 2017, limits trade on North Korean crude oil and refined petroleum, textiles, and natural gas condensate and liquids. 

That has to hurt. China's the largest nation the DPRK trades with. And remember; North Korea can only survive with aid or trade from the Soviet Union or China. In fact, during the Cold War, the DPRK economically outperformed the South in its early years because of Soviet subsidies. But nearly 70 years later, South Korea clearly eclipses the North with its Goliath economy. 

By removing China as a trade partner, these sanctions can only paralyze an already crippled country. Because of them, it appears that Kim's administration has reached the point, where it's finally willing to negotiate, possibly admitting that they can't carry on. 

The solution to end the North Korean conflict is obvious. It's the implementation that agitates strife. Both North and South (and its US-backed allies) agree that the only way forward is reunification. But, the question has always been: On whose terms? 

The Trump-Kim Summit rehashes that question and brings us to a historic crossroads: Will the U.S. watch as the Hermit Kingdom crumbles like East Germany or will it prop up a new class of global and foreign elites with American money - as Nixon did with China? 

Given the economic sanctions and the 300,000 refugees that are escaping, it’d be in U.S. interest to wait, rather than handing over money to authoritarian bureaucrats, especially those that have committed the worst human rights violations in today’s world. 

To be sure, the world is threatened every time North Korea launches missiles into the Japanese Sea, issues threats, or violates its nuclear proliferation agreement. For over 67 years, the DPRK has threatened to kill South Koreans. In fact, its threat climaxed in January of 1994, when it said it could torch Seoul into a "sea of fire". 

But it hasn't done so yet, and why not? Under game theory - where states act in their own rational self-interest - it's common sense that nothing is gained from blowing up the world. The DPRK knows in doing so, South Korea, backed by U.S. forces, would certainly defend itself and potentially raze North Korea and its people into ashes. 

Hence, political scientist, Robert Axelrod is foolhardy to advise that North Korean threats should be met with tit-for-tat. There's no need to prove to the Hermit Kingdom that the U.S. is the most powerful economic and military nation; there's nothing to be gained out of having this acknowledgement from a third world country. And doesn't the Kim regime already know this? Of course. 

On the contrary, provoking an already desperate nation can lead to destruction, because it can only fuel irrationality and anger in the DPRK administration. It's better to ignore and wait North Korea out with patience. Even good parents know not to succumb to the will of screaming and whining children. 

To conclude, let's recall a wise lesson that dying Queen Mary teaches newly-crowned and young Queen Elizabeth in the first season of The Crown, which Irish writer, Oscar Wilde also knew. He penned nearly two generations earlier: "To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”

*This piece was first published in the Morning Consult.

**Thank you to Gordon Allen for his guidance and feedback in making this a better piece. Also, thank you to my trial professor Albert Moore's enduring confidence in me. Finally, I appreciate all the encouragement Rick Yamamoto has provided. (If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to publish an essay.)

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