I find it interesting to see what the foreign press has to say about things we do. It gives a different perspective than one you’re likely to see in the highly partisan atmosphere in this country. That’s not to say that foreign press reports aren’t biased to some (or to a great) degree. However, they often have some useful insights.
Pertaining to the NoKo/hostage release situation, the Financial Times is one of those. Other than the obvious, the release of the hostages, the FT wonders what each side got out of this. On the NoKo side, it seems everyone agrees it was a propaganda coup for them. But of what use was it?
The extraordinary photographs showing him flanked by a former US president (doing his best to imitate a sphinx) and several former US officials are a propaganda coup. They will without any doubt be used to shore up his position at home and secure his ability to confer succession upon his third son, Kim Jong-woon, still in his 20s.
So, in effect, the coup primarily benefits internal succession concerns. Is that all? Well, not really. There was more to it than that they say:
Mr Kim has used the arrest of two journalists to secure the bilateral meeting he craved, albeit with the head of a former administration. Next, he will be after money and supplies.
This is the key sentence in the article. And this is what has those who’ve denounced the trip concerned. Kim uses tactics like this to get what he wants, no matter how phony it ends up being. He uses our humanitarian concerns against us. So, in reality, we end up rewarding his bad behavior by doing what he craves – giving him attention at a very high level, even if it is “unofficial”. Which brings us to the second part of this – what did the US gain other than the release of the hostages?
Barack Obama has sought to portray Mr Clinton’s visit as purely private. That is not credible, particularly given the former president’s relationship to Hillary Clinton, secretary of state. In more than three hours of discussions with Mr Kim, Mr Clinton must have strayed beyond idle chit-chat. It can only be hoped he sought to discover what is North Korea’s negotiating bottom line and what, if anything, could persuade it to part company with its nuclear weapons.
This is the story-line that is least credible – “strictly private”. First Kim would never agree to waste an opportunity like this for a “strictly private” settlement. He held all the cards and it is completely unlike him to trade the hostages for a photo. And, if reports are correct, Bill Clinton’s plane wasn’t met but some random diplomatic staffer, but by North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator. So you have to assume that something other than “idle chit-chat” was on the agenda.
So what comes out of all of this. We’ve again set the precedent of giving in to North Korea. I’m not so sure it wasn’t the best move given the situation which left us few choices. However, it does set us up to have to respond in a like manner if a similar situation presents itself. In the meantime, the question is “does that open a channel that will lead to future dialog”?
My guess is no. We’re talking about a criminal enterprise in the guise of a state. They see our humanitarian concerns to be a weakness to be exploited. And exploit them they will. That doesn’t mean what was done was wrong. It just means we have to understand that hoping for a breakthrough based on what we did isn’t very likely. Instead it is just another example of North Korea using us to score a political and propaganda victory before they settle back into their normal criminal routine.