Interpreting the Summit

Some Possible Implications of the Summit

As might be expected with a meeting which lacked definitive agreements, the media (and other commentarists) containmuch speculation today about what has happened and what might now happen. The general reaction seems to be that, while NK has agreed in principle to denuke, that is no different to what his father and grandfather did and it is unlikely that much will be achieved on that side. On the Trump side there are expressions of concern that too much has been conceded unnecessarily.

My letter below, published today in The Australian with some deletions by Ed but restored below in square brackets, takes a more optimistic view under the heading used by Ed — Denuclearisation in Practice Will Demand Finesse

“What is the biggest threat to life on earth? Answer: That the crazy leader of a country with nukes will send a few off to countries he doesn’t like and millions of people will then be killed before he is.  [Does this crazy person seem like the present leader of North Korea? Answer: Yes, without doubt.]

What should we do about it? First the leaders of the most important country in the word (the US with its nukes) warns him of the dangers to his country unless he denuclearises. Second, when that doesn’t work, those same leaders tell him there is a better life available for him and his fellow citizens. Third, when that doesn’t work either the current leader of the USA offers to talk to him one-on-one about the benefits from denuclearisation.

After many years of failure, this has now been done. But many don’t like the current US leader and object to what he is offering Mr Crazy, even to meeting him at all. Others would say that the current US leader has shown courage and adopted the only available course short of war.

And, as Prime Minister Turnbull said, isn’t it worth a “red hot go”, all the more so as Trump can withdraw his offer of benefits without any loss except perhaps to his status? [Well, yes and that Trump guy deserves praise.]”

But more comprehensively, Chris Kenny, has an article which gives the best analysis of both Trump and (to a lesser extent) Kim and suggests that the treatment of Trump by the media and other branches of US society (add Australia and other countries) is astray (see Kenny on Trump). This is summed up in the following extract

It is embarrassing to watch, and unhealthy for the players as well as the democracies they serve. Rather than learn anything from the Trump ascendancy they seem determined to teach their nemesis a lesson. But their vitriol can only help Trump, bringing his defiance of the media/political class into sharper focus, highlighting his achievements and ensuring his enemies are stuck in the mire of their disastrous 2016 campaign instead of thinking about how they might do better in 2020. This must be the longest dummy spit in political history.

Kenny argues that Trump has been successful because he “speaks to voters” and is “the exemplar at targeting his audience”, which “makes him a more authentic and honest communicator than other politicians” and this means that his inconsistencies are downplayed. “In other words, even though he sometimes thinks different things at different times and sometimes gets things wrong, Trump says what he thinks. There is no filter. He doesn’t care about the parsing in full carried out by journalists; he tidies up ­directly with the public”.

I recommend that Kenny’s article be read in full.

This is not to overlook that there are potential problems posed by Trump’s agreement with Kim and these are discussed in Sheridan’s article (see Sheridan on Trump). They include

  • His “contemptuous and counter-­productive disregard for US alliances, his exaggerated need to personalise every issue around whether he is flattered, and his general inability to follow though anything with consistency”. But that Trump has been critical of some in alliance with the US is often justified by their failure to maintain the principles of western beliefs and they have, in fact, benefited from Trump taking back the US’s role as world leader which was lost under Obama. Trump is not the only President to differ with US alliances: Australia has differed with the US in its interpretation of what the west should do in the Vietnam War and the withdrawal from Iraq. Certainly, Trump’s handling of the recent G7 conference might have been done more diplomatically, but his actions contrast with the failure of such conferences in the past to reach any substantive agreement because they judged it best to be ‘diplomatic’;
  • His agreement with Kim has “been woollier and less specific than the previous (NK) ones”. But the Kim agreement to denuke has only just started and there is no indication that a nuclear (or other) attack on another country (incl SK) will not result in US assistance in some form;
  • His suspension of US/SK military exercises does not constitute a potential reduction in US help to SK (or other countries in the region).That suspension can be changed overnight and the US troops remain in SK and will reportedly be more active in other ways. It is far too early to see a US withdrawal from Asia;
  • Trump’s declaration that it is OK for China to remove some of its sanctions against NK contrasts with Trump’s National Security Strategy which identifies China as a strategic rival. Depending on what sanctions are removed this could be of concern, although it may be in response to a prior agreement with China, which appears to have helped pressure Kim to emerge from his shell. In any event Trump has not let China off the hook by his announcement yesterday that the US will put a large volume of China’s exports to the US on tariffs.
  • Sheridan’s quotation of the critical view by a senior George Bush official (that T doesn’t understand what alliances mean) is a surprise and fails to recognize that Trump has started, or tried to start, a new era in the (smaller) significance of alliances and has started the America First alliance.

Trade between the US and NK was not an issue at the summit, if only because about 75% of NK trade is with China. But NK trade is an issue that relates to Trump’s encouragement to NK to  open its economy.  More generally, with the new tariffs on imports from China coming on top of the general tariffs on steel and aluminium (with some exemptions), it appears that trade will become an increasingly important issue on Trump’s agenda. I was reminded of this by today’s report that the EU Trade Commissioner is about to visit Australia (see EU Supports Rule Based Order)

I am not up to date with Australia’s trade in agriculture with the EU but some readers of this Commentary will be aware of the Common Agriculture Policy adopted before the EU was formed by the then existing EEC (the monetary union did not start until the 1990s) . The tariffs put on agricultural imports from outside the EU, and the subsidies for EU farmers, stopped or largely reduced our exports to the EU and those exports were only “saved” by the opening up of the Japanese and (later) Chinese markets. The latest report by the EU reports that it is now exporting agri-food products of E138 bn (up 5% on last year), that it has a net trade surplus of E21bn in such products, and that assistance to farmers (ie subsidies) takes about 40 per cent of the EU Budget. Yet the attached report has her  denying that European agribusiness policy is protectionist. “It is sensitive for us. I don’t think it’s correct to say we have a protectionist policy here; we ­reformed our common agricultural policy quite profoundly last year.’’

This is just one of the examples of why Trump is correct in claiming that existing international  arrangements have adverse effects on the US (and on Australia). It is bad news that the EU TC has been working with Australia’s Ciobo to attack US trade policy. We should be helping the US where that country can legitimately claim to be unfairly treated.

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