The Hanoi summit — Trump-style

With permission from Alan Moir,

Thousands of journalists from around the world gathered in Hanoi, Vietnam over February 27-28 to cover another historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump, which followed their first summit in Singapore in June last year.

Expectations for the meeting were high, and hope for a further step towards peace was great, but ultimately, no deal was made. The Vietnamese government hosted a historic summit, but there was no Hanoi Declaration to signal a permanent peace in the Korean peninsula.

Who broke the deal?

Trump did. Why? No one knows what was in Trump's mind, but he later confessed he could not concentrate on the meeting because of the [Michael] Cohen Hearing. At his press conference, his explanation for the breakdown of talks was vague and confusing.

Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, kept silent. His accomplices presented their position defensively, but it is still not clear what point they differed on at the summit. Nevertheless, it is clear that the North Koreans were deeply disappointed.

Pyongyang's news agencies did not mention the breakdown or the summit’s failure, instead they emphasised Kim Jong-un’s leadership in international politics.

The North Korean regime and its leaders appeared relatively consistent and reasonable in their negotiation with the US. This time, however, it appears they fell victim to Trump's volatile whim.

The South Korean government was the most disappointed, as it had the highest expectations for the DPRK-US summit. President Moon Jae-in was forced to revise his speech at the ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the March First Movement for independence. However, like everyone else, South Koreans are still not aware of exactly why and how the summit failed.

No truth in wild guesses

Days after the summit broke down, wild guesses continued, following remarks by Trump and other US officials.

US National Security Advisor, John Bolton emerged as the bad guy during and after the summit, displaying the yellow envelope that contained a proposal for a "big deal". This awkward claim amplified more doubts and raised more questions. Why was he there, given he was not part of the negotiating team and had no counter-partner at the summit table?

The result of the summit could be interpreted as the victory of Bolton's “hawks” over Mike Pompeo’s and Stephen Biegun's “doves”, but even this cannot explain why Trump chose a “no deal” outcome.

Despite the efforts of the international and national media, the truth is still elusive, except to Trump and his accomplices. The Hanoi summit ended in a tragic-comic fiasco and Trump only succeeded in fooling everyone else on the planet.

Aftermath of the breakdown

This fiasco did not destroy everything, however. Trump claimed the dialogue was not over. Kim Jong-un did not blame Trump for the US’ outrageous demands or the failure of the summit. Even China accepted the no deal and stayed calm. The pro-US South Korean government was also not prepared to blame Trump.

Undoubtedly, Donald Trump was the real bad guy, but no one dared say it. Perhaps, the US Democrats smiled at Trump’s retreat in face of pressure.

What is clear is that any success at the summit could not save Trump’s presidency. This could be the logic behind his actions, but hard evidence would be needed to prove it.

One fortunate outcome is that both sides expressed their intention to continue dialogue. Thus, the failure of the summit is not expected to lead to a sudden confrontation or any other worse scenario for now. However, neither leader apologised for the huge inconvenience and waste of time and money to the people of Vietnam and Korea.

The now “unhistoric” summit revealed a bitter and sad truth: a US president can do anything, however improper or insane, with impunity. In history, people usually pay the price, but in the future the people will need to pay back the arrogance of a decaying empire.

[Youngsu Won is the coordinator of the International Forum in Korea.]