Anyone got a long spoon?

We shall fight them on the beaches

Is anyone else made slightly uncomfortable by the sight of two of the world’s biggest bullies sitting down together with big cheesy grins plastered over their mugs? It can’t just be me surely?

There is an argument that runs like this: “Say what you like about Donald Trump, but he is the guy who got the North Koreans to the table and got them talking to the West”. Well, yes I suppose so, but watching the endless news coverage yesterday made me think nothing so much as Kim Jong-un just looks like a man who has got everything he asked for.

The South Koreans seem to be equally uncomfortable, not least because they found out when the rest of the world did that Trump has decided to suspend military action with them.

Of course, how this summit is viewed now and by historians rather depends on your politics. Fox News once criticized former President Obama for his willingness to “talk to dictators.” Now, it’s praising Trump to the hilt for doing exactly that. Sitting down and shaking hands with a guy who has come to power and retained it by some allegedly very dodgy means – including removing threats from his own family. His is also a country that has allegedly committed some appalling human rights abuses – medical experimentation and testing deadly poisons, some of it on its own citizens and prisoners. Hard to prove, of course, when it’s a country that has denied access to visitors and the media for years

Sure, great political leaps forward only happen because people are prepared to talk to those they once fought – think Mo Mowlem in the Maze prison, Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, President Mandela. No matter how many placards we waved outside the South African Embassy in the 1980s, universal franchise in South Africa was granted because the white Government had had enough of the economic sanctions and of being the bad guy. They wanted a place at the table and on the sports field. The same may now be true of North Korea.

Trump said it himself yesterday, that he is the sort of guy who can recognise when another guy wants to do a deal. He may think that the summit has happened because of him, but Kim Jong-un wants what the West can give it: money, kudos, status, the Big Mac. The North Korean delegation didn’t just rock up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics this year because they felt like it. This rapprochement has been bubbling under for years. Trump, too, knows exactly what he wants from this: ever the businessman, he has his eyes on the real estate possibilities of North Korea’s beaches. He wants the first international holiday resort in North Korea to bear his name.

Can we really just shake on it and sweep all the dodgy stuff under the diplomatic carpet? Should we do so, in pursuit of the bigger picture? It’s not like we haven’t done it before.

Any student of 20th century history knows that Stalin’s Russian forces during and just after WW2 were responsible for some appalling atrocities, just as the German forces were. But when Churchill and Roosevelt sat down with Stalin in Yalta in February 1945 to discuss the probable German surrender, I don’t remember either Churchill or Truman being reported as saying ‘this Josef guy. He’s a player. He’s a guy we can do business with” and salivating over the building opportunities on the Black Sea coast. Trump may be a businessman but he’s no statesman.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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