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Historic summit

By Senator Manny Villar

Last June 12, 2018, as we were commemorating our 120th Independence Day, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore for a historic summit.

At the center of the summit’s agenda was the nuclear program of North Korea and more importantly taking the first steps towards peace, not just in the Korean Peninsula but also the world as well.

The global interest generated by the summit is due not just to the significance of the meeting but also to the two personalities involved. Trump is flamboyant, unorthodox, and seemingly capricious. Kim, on the other hand, is unpredictable, despised by many in the Western world, and often described as a madman.

While the agreement that was crafted in the summit was criticized by some for its lack of specificity, there is no denying the historic nature of the first meeting between the leaders of the two nations. The agreement included commitments to “establish new US-DPRK relations,” and,”build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula”. Pyongyang also committed to “work toward complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” and the US committed to provide security guarantees for its Korean nemesis.

Despite North Korea’s documented history of violating agreements it entered into, its government took a small step in the right direction by dismantling some nuclear facilities. There is still so much more to do to achieve the ideals of lasting global peace but I think this is a positive step.

Do not get me wrong. Kim and the North Korean government should be rightfully criticized for prioritizing its nuclear program over the welfare of its people. While many of its people are hungry and poor, it nuclear build-up has received most of the money that should have been used for economic development. Worse, such acts has plunged the region and the world into a tensed security situation that threaten the very existence of all nations including the Philippines.

I understand that one summit cannot change this situation. I also understand that we cannot completely trust the leader of North Korea to honor the agreement.

But I believe that this strategy is the right strategy to deal with leaders whose fingers are aimed at that nuclear button—engage them. It is easy for us to craft very simplistic perceptions of the North Korean leader. Are critics correct in painting him as mad and unhinged?

If he is mad then there is method to his madness. At a very young age, he assumed the leadership role in his country after the death of his father. Probably sensing that his government’s military leader were sizing him up, Kim had to project a strong leadership persona both in his country and the world. He could not afford to be perceived as soft and weak.

He probably pursued his country’s nuclear program because he wanted to strengthen his hand in negotiations with the US. But at the same time he was aware of the tragic fate of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Khadafy

But how do you deal with him? History has shown that the strategy of interfering in the affairs of other nations, actively and covertly removing a dictator are ineffective. More often than not, the forcible removal of a dictator and attempts by a foreign power at state-building create a political vacuum leading to further instability. In other words, it does not work.

A caricature of the North Korean leader is not going to help us get to our ultimate objective: world stability and peace. The more you deal with him, the more you understand him—his thinking, his contexts and his perspectives.

Demonizing world leaders we do not like does not change anything. On the contrary, it isolates them and push them into a corner. Engaging them however creates an environment where progress can be achieved. Getting them in the negotiating table ensures that dialog not violence will prevail.

Some might say this is a naive point of view but I’d rather be naive than wrong, especially if we are talking about nuclear weapons that can obliterate our world as we know it. Whatever you think of the two gentlemen, let us all hope and pray that the objectives of that historic summit are achieved for our sake and the future of our children.