By Jayantha Dhanapala*
Sentosa, the Singapore venue of the historic June 12 summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, is today an ultra modern pleasure island with a name derived from the Sanskrit ‘Santosa’, but with its old Malay name Pulao Blakang Mati (Island of Death Behind) clinging to it as a reminder of a murky past as a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and a disease ridden swamp.
The Janus faced island history represents a future of peace and prosperity and a past of conflict and tension confronting the two leaders trying to reverse hostile relations spanning over seven decades.
Sentosa has the only casinos where native Singaporeans can gamble in this “guided democracy” but is familiar territory for the casino owner Donald Trump who makes deals relying on hunches and unconventional instinct in only his second year as President.
Shedding the usual diplomatic preparations with teams of sherpas poring over briefing books, this summit overcame one major hurdle caused by a Bolton dropped brick, and then put back on track.
The immediate prospects for Sentosa were also not good following the shambles of the G7 meeting in Quebec where U.S. allies like Canada and Germany were snubbed.
However, contributing to the success of the diplomatic breakthrough in Sentosa was the patient diplomacy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had met his North Korean counterpart at the Pan Mun jom border, and China.
And then lurking behind was the strange figure of the star retired U.S. basket ball player Dennis Rodman who had established an amazing rapport with Kim Jong Un first as a basket ball fan and then as a black American citizen who helped demystify the mightiest nation to the head of the “hermit kingdom” to bring it out of self imposed isolation.
Thus Dennis Rodman played the classic role of Everyman in a drama of global politics the details of which must emerge someday. Singapore handled the role of host with aplomb.
At the end of the Summit, unlike with the carefully structured 1972 Shanghai Communiqué after the Mao-Nixon breakthrough, seasoned journalists fed on a daily diet of hamburgers and hotdogs of press releases and leaks asked the question: ‘But where’s the beef?’ The bare bones of the bilateral statement were as follows:
“President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations and committed to the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the 27 April 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
… President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.-DPRK summit.”
Critics have been quick to observe the vagueness of the agreement, the absence of precise terms, a monitoring body like the IAEA and a time-table regarding denuclearization, no mention of human rights issues in DPRK, no mention of DPRK’s missile programme and no firm dates on follow up action etc.
With a meticulously negotiated JCPOA between Iran and a group of Western countries, the U.S. still withdrew from this multilateral agreement. In Sentosa, agreement appears to have been reached in broad principle in terms of intentions with no details.
South Korea (officially the Republic of South Korea – ROK) does not appear to have been consulted on the cessation of the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises which had been so provocative in the past although President Moon has now announced that he could consider a year’s postponement.
Those who recall the Agreed Framework signed between the Clinton Administration and the DPRK and its eventual collapse amidst mutual recrimination will warn of a similar fate for the Sentosa Agreement unless there is an assiduous follow-up.
Despite these many shortcomings, the unconventional Trump has caused, ending its nuclear threat and proving that Trump can be more than a disruptor in modern diplomacy.
*Jayantha Dhanapala is a retired Sri Lanka Ambassador and a former UN Under-Secretary-General. This article first appeared in Ceylon Today on June 17 with the caption ‘Sentosa Gambler’s luck or haunting ghosts’.