Why the US-DPRK summit meeting in Hanoi failed

The US arrived in Vietnam with no intention of negotiating anything, but cracks are again appearing between Trump and his advisers.

On 28 February 2019, a much-hyped summit meeting was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, between Donald Trump, representing the United States, and Kim Jong Un, representing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It had been hoped that as a result of this meeting some progress would be made towards normalising relations between the two countries, with the DPRK agreeing further to reduce the development of its nuclear capacity in return for some relief from the crippling sanctions that have been inflicted upon it by the US imperialist bullies and those who go along with them – either as allies or for fear of sanctions being imposed on them as well.

In the end, however, no agreement whatsoever was reached, despite considerable concessions being offered by the DPRK.

No intent to negotiate

The situation was aptly described by Mike Whitney of Global Research:

“What was particularly puzzling about the summit was the manner in which the negotiations were conducted, that is, there were no negotiations at all, not really. The Trump delegation simply listened politely to Kim’s offers, scratched their chins and then rejected them without debate or counter proposal.

“In other words, the whole summit was a fraud. The US did not come to argue, dicker, quibble, wrangle or haggle on any of the key issues. In their minds, the final verdict was already was set in stone before they ever touched down in Hanoi. It was a done deal. The sanctions would continue to be enforced until the DPRK government collapsed or until hell froze over, whichever came first.

“The media would like readers to believe that the credulous Trump narrowly escaped a lethal trap set by the evil despot, Kim Jong Un. But that’s not what happened at all. What happened is that Kim showed his willingness to go the extra mile for peace but was slapped down by an unreasonable, inflexible and intractable adversary who remains focused laser-like on preserving the status quo, intensifying the sanctions and paving the way to regime change.

“That’s what the summit really proved, that one side is looking for compromise and resolution while the other favours confrontation and conflict.” (The Trump-Kim summit – what really happened in Hanoi?, 5 March 2019)

This result was hardly unexpected.

“Mr Trump’s offer was essentially the same deal that the United States has pushed – and the north has rejected – for a quarter-century. Intelligence agencies had warned him, publicly, Mr Kim would not be willing to give up the arsenal completely. North Korea itself had said repeatedly that it would only move gradually.” (How Trump-Kim summit failed: big threats, big egos, bad bets by David E Sanger and Edward Wong, New York Times, 2 March 2019)

Decades of crushing Korea’s liberty and independence

Ever since the defeat of the Japanese in World War 2 and their expulsion from the Korean peninsula, US imperialism has made it its business to stifle the Korean people’s desire for liberation from the rule of foreign colonialists and to try to exterminate the communist state that was able to form in the north, in accordance with the wishes of the people, because it was the Soviet Union that oversaw the Japanese withdrawal from the area north of the 38th parallel, rather than US imperialism – which supposedly performed the same role in the south.

The Soviet Union ensured that the northern part of Korea was handed over to the Korean people to run as they saw fit, fully respecting the sovereignty of their country and withdrawing its forces from the country as soon as the handover was complete.

Unlike the Soviet Union, US imperialism has never withdrawn its military machine from the south, as its continued presence was required to support the unpopular regime that was installed there under imperialist guidance.

In 1950, US imperialism and its allies, including Britain, and some of its client states launched a ferocious war against north Korea, expecting to be able to overpower it, remove its communist government and replace it with a government of imperialist puppets.

Thanks to the determination of the Korean people to fight to the last to preserve their national sovereignty and independence, and thanks also to the unstinting fraternal support given to them by communist China and the communist Soviet Union, the imperialist plans to annexe north Korea were frustrated, and in 1953 an armistice was declared, bringing an end to the hostilities that had cost 4 million Korean lives.

US imperialism has certainly not been a gracious loser, refusing to countenance a peace treaty with the DPRK, even though 66 years have passed since the end of the war.

Armistice, but no peace treaty; threats and bribes have all failed

Why no peace treaty? “Some analysts said they believed then that the north was seeking an end-of-war declaration as a prelude to legally replacing the armistice that halted the Korean War, an idea that Mr Trump told Mr Kim in Singapore he supported. And Mr Moon [the president of south Korea] was pushing for the end-of-war declaration.

“American officials were worried it could lead too quickly to a peace treaty and then negotiations to draw down the 28,500 American troops on the peninsula – a long-time goal of the north.” (New York Times, ibid)

Obviously, US imperialism is not going to risk losing its base in south Korea, when it’s bad enough not to be able to extend that base north to the Chinese and Russian borders.

Regime after regime in Washington has held firm to the line of demonising and threatening north Korea, seeking to find ways of causing its government’s collapse in order to bring Korean socialism to an end so as to open up the country to plunder by imperialist multinationals, as well as to use as a military base well positioned to counter the rise of China and Russia.

However, despite the hardships the Korean people have had at times to endure as a result of imperialist bullying through economic sanctions and measures to sabotage the country’s trade, they have stood firmly in defence of their country’s sovereignty and the benefits they all enjoy such as guaranteed affordable housing, free education at every level, free nurseries and after-school activities for children, copious free cultural and sporting activities, free healthcare, guaranteed employment, etc – in short, their most precious human dignity.

Over the years there have been attempts by US imperialism to lower the DPRK’s guard. For instance, in 1994, the DPRK was promised light-water reactors in exchange for decommissioning its own nuclear reactors, which were capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium (although their purpose was merely the production of electricity much needed by the country).

The DPRK fulfilled its side of the bargain and, to make up for the lost energy production, it was promised 500,000 tons of heavy fuel free of charge every year until the first light-water reactor was operational. But the light-water reactors never materialised, and heavy oil deliveries were constantly late and insufficient.

It came to light that the regime of President Bill Clinton, which had signed the deal, never intended to implement it. Knowing the losses the country would suffer as a result of the collapse of the socialist governments of the USSR and eastern Europe, the US had been assuming that the collapse of the north Korean government was also imminent. In any event, as soon as George W Bush took over from Clinton, he formally reneged on the deal and refused to implement the undertakings the US had made.

However, as the DPRK has a socialist planned economy, which wastes no human resources through unemployment, underemployment, lack of education and training, or engagement in pointless activity, it was able to mobilise tens of thousands of people to make good the loss of its reactors.

Korea standing firm

With regard to its recent dismantling of the main nuclear power facility at Yongbyon, carried out in good faith at the request of US imperialism so as to facilitate the normalisation of relations and the lifting of sanctions, we can, in the absence of any concrete concessions by the US, expect the facilities that have been destroyed to be restored in very short order. Indeed, that restoration has already begun.

US imperialism cannot claim it was not warned that this would be the result of any intransigence on its part. In his New Year address this year, Kim Jong Un could hardly have expressed himself more clearly:

“I want to believe that our relations with the United States will bear good fruit this year, as inter-Korean relations have made a great turn, by the efforts of the two sides.

“I am of the opinion that, while meeting and holding talks beneficial to both sides with the US president in June last year, we exchanged constructive views and reached a consensus of understanding for a shortcut to removing each other’s apprehensions and resolving the entangled problems.

“I am ready to meet the US president again anytime, and will make strong efforts to obtain results that will be welcomed by the international community.

“But if the United States does not keep the promise it made in the eyes of the world, and if, out of miscalculation of our people’s patience, it attempts unilaterally to enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our republic, we may be compelled to find a new way of defending the sovereignty of our country and the supreme interests of our state, and for achieving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

The New York Times, which admittedly criticises everything Donald Trump does or doesn’t do, nevertheless drew the obvious conclusion from the Hanoi fiasco:

“History suggests that the north Koreans may try to pressure Mr Trump by escalating. And they have the opportunity: Mr Trump not only left Hanoi early, but he also left without any agreement for a ‘freeze’ on continued north Korean production of nuclear material.

“That means that the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal will continue to increase in size as negotiations drag on.” (Trump-Kim summit collapse exposes the risks of one-to-one diplomacy by David Sanger, 28 February 2019)

Despite US imperialism’s show of bad faith, however, it seems that the DPRK did agree to continue its freeze on the testing of nuclear weapons and on the missiles designed to deliver them pending further discussions. At the same time, US imperialism undertook not to recommence its annual provocative joint military exercises with south Korea – for which south Korea is in any event losing its enthusiasm.

Sanctions targeting the people; a weapon of regime change

Donald Trump initially tried to pin the blame for the failure on the DPRK, claiming that it had demanded the immediate withdrawal of all sanctions. This was blatantly untrue since the DPRK side had clearly recognised that the process of normalisation would need to take place in stages so that trust between the two sides could gradually be built.

The lie, however, had the effect of drawing attention to the reasonableness of what the DPRK had in fact asked for in return for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon base. Namely, that the five most recent rounds of sanctions imposed by the United Nations since March 2016 should be lifted.

As DPRK foreign minister Ri Yong Ho pointed out, these were sanctions aimed at hurting ordinary citizens: “These sanctions, imposed to punish Pyongyang for new weapons tests, differed from previous restrictions that were focused on weapons and nuclear-related equipment. Instead, they covered entire export sectors, including minerals, metals, coal, agriculture and seafood.

“They also banned energy sales to north Korea. Altogether, they held back billions of dollars of trade, a senior state department official said.”

But of course, true to form: “The far-reaching nature of the sanctions – and the suffering they were causing – were exactly why hardline administration officials wanted to keep them up,” for these were the sanctions most pertinent to the US’s regime change agenda.

Mike Whitney speculated that Kim Jong Un knew perfectly well that US imperialism would not make the slightest concession, and that he was safe in making a spectacular denuclearisation offer, far more generous than anybody had any right to expect, because he knew that whatever he offered would be turned down, adding: “After Hanoi, I would expect Russia and China will look for ways circumvent the sanctions.” (Global Research, op cit)

In fact, both China and Russia are being themselves bullied by US imperialism, not only through the virulent propaganda levied against them but also in concrete ways – Russia being subjected to sanctions and China to punitive tariffs on its exports to the US.

Kim Jong Un’s request to remove sanctions that aim to cause suffering to the general population cannot but resonate with them, and with all countries that are similarly subjected to imperialist bullying.

In fact, as more and more countries are subjected to this treatment, it will in all probability hasten the development of measures to break the US imperialist financial monopoly that makes its sanctions weapon so destructive. That in turn would cause the purchasing power of the dollar to plummet spectacularly and permanently. US imperialism will end up simply shooting itself in the foot.

Growing accord between north and south: an own-goal for US policy

US imperialism’s ‘pivot to Asia’ – ie, its policy of extending its domination throughout Asia – is coming up against more and more resistance. South Korea has traditionally been its firmest foothold in the region, but that foothold is beginning to slip.

Lacking totally in diplomatic finesse, Trump was only last year blurting out that if the DPRK did not do as it was told and abandon all its nuclear capacity, it would be subjected to “fire and fury” such as had “never been seen”.

This threat had not the slightest effect on the DPRK, which dismissed the remarks as the ravings of a lunatic, but it terrified the south Koreans, who could not but see the obvious: that any US military attack on the north would inevitably rebound on the south, pulling it into a terrible war, and possibly rendering it uninhabitable for decades as a result of the deployment of nuclear weapons.

To the extent that the DPRK’s nuclear bombs and missile delivery systems actually deter any military attack against the country, they act to protect not only the north, but also the south. This realisation has given great impetus to those within south Korea who seek detente with the north: a peace treaty, the departure of the US troops stationed in their country, and reunification with the north.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has been working hard to improve relations with the DPRK. Indeed, he was elected by a population the majority of whom would like to have friendly relations with the north, not only to enhance their own security, but also to facilitate the building of a strong, sovereign, wealthy and independent Korea – a goal which they share with the government and all the people of the north.

This is why last September, “In a formal agreement known as the Pyongyang Declaration, the two leaders committed to reconnect rail and road links between the two countries, reopen a frozen joint industrial zone in Kaesong and a tourist site at Mount Kumgang, and make plans for a special economic zone, of the kind Deng promoted to open up China to foreign investment in the 1980s.” (Kim Jong Un has a dream. The US should help him realise it by John Delury, New York Times, 21 September 2018)

Mike Whitney commented: “The economic integration plans are moving forward even before the nuclear issue has been resolved, the sanctions have been lifted, or a formal treaty ending the war has been signed. The entire region appears to be breaking out of Washington’s orbit and charting a new course on its own.

“Naturally, this has ruffled a few feathers at the White House, where Trump’s advisers have concocted various means of derailing the project. Sabotaging the summit in Hanoi is just the first volley in this new confrontation; there are bound to be many more in the days to come.” (Global Research, op cit)

Division in the enemy camp

It is interesting to note, however, that Donald Trump may be at odds in this regard with his ultra-hawkish advisers Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. It is not beyond all possibility that he would have liked to have responded to Kim Jong Un’s overtures with some small concessions but was somehow dissuaded from doing so, since by all accounts he had been confident that progress would be made at the Hanoi summit.

Trump prides himself on being a ‘great negotiator’, but at Hanoi no negotiation took place. Negotiation requires each side to make a sacrifice in order to obtain some superior gain, yet the US side was prepared to sacrifice nothing. In the circumstances, one would have thought even Donald Trump would have considered it a complete waste of time travelling all that way.

Support for this supposition comes from the fact that Trump was careful to leave the door open for future negotiations. And recently he has vetoed the application of yet further sanctions on the DPRK:

“President Trump undercut his own treasury department on Friday [22 March 2019] with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed north korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favour to Kim Jong Un, the north Korean leader.

“The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure north Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons programme.” (Trump overrules own experts on sanctions, in favour to north Korea by Alan Rappaport, New York Times, 22 March 2019)

Is it possible that Trump can see more clearly than such ‘respectable’ hawks as Bolton, Pompeo and Pence that US imperialism is in danger of losing all influence in the far east if it continues with its policy of boorish intransigence? It is clear that the Trump regime and US imperialism are in complete disarray on the question of how to deal with the DPRK.

Time to sign a peace treaty to end the Korean war; Korea is one!