Trump touts prosperity, but is that what North Korea wants?
By ERIC TALMADGE
Wednesday, February 27
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — President Donald Trump’s message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been simple and clear: give up your nuclear weapons and a flood of wealth will soon be yours for the taking.
But here’s a nagging question: Is that really what Kim wants?
With Trump and Kim descending on Hanoi for their second summit, there has been a persistent suggestion that Kim will look around at the relative prosperity of his Vietnamese hosts — who are certainly no strangers to U.S. hostility — and think that he, too, should open up his country to more foreign investment and trade.
Trump himself has been the primary cheerleader.
On Wednesday morning he tweeted: “Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize. The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!”
For sure, North Korea could have a brighter future.
“Using the words ‘great economic power’ is a Trumpian exaggeration, but a useful one,” said William Brown, a North Korea economy expert and former CIA analyst. “The truth is North Korea quite easily could become a prosperous country, growing faster than any of its neighbors and catching up with them in terms of income per capita. It has what it takes.”
Brown cited North Korea’s strong human capital, low wages and high levels of verbal and math literacy. He also noted it has a potential bonanza of natural resources such as lead, zinc, rare earths, coal, iron ore and hydropower. He agreed with Trump about location — saying North Korea sits “between four big economies that are far richer but increasingly moribund.”
But girding against a foreign threat is a time-tested justification for giving a leader extraordinary powers and limiting individual freedoms, like travel and expression. Opening up to foreign capital and bringing his country in line with international financial standards means giving up a great deal of control.
Control, for Kim, is the most important commodity of all.
While his country is far more dynamic than many outside observers realize, opening up in the pursuit of wealth is for Kim an extremely dangerous proposition. It seems clear he wants to revitalize the economy, but it is anything but apparent he’s ready or even interested in opening up any more than he needs to in order to achieve that narrow goal.
As Kim arrived in Hanoi, back in Pyongyang the ruling party’s daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, printed a commentary vowing the nation will stay the course the Kim family has set for the past three generations.
“The revolutionary cause of juche (self-reliance) and the cause of socialism are sure to triumph” under the guidance of the party and the people “who remain faithful to the cause of the party with indomitable mental power,” it said.
Kim’s primary objectives have focused on the development of infrastructure projects, building up the tourism industry and strengthening government regulation of the country’s expanding market-style economy.
“The statements from Trump at North Korea as the next economic powerhouse seem to assume that were the nuclear weapons out of the picture, North Korea would immediately open its doors and society to anyone wanting to come in and invest,” said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center and editor of North Korea Economy Watch. “But the regime will want to maintain the main facets of social control.”
Silberstein said the government isn’t likely to let foreign businesspeople roam freely around the country anytime soon. He added that Kim has focused on promoting special economic zones because they have the potential for high growth while remaining isolated “walled gardens.”
In the immediate future, Kim’s goals are pragmatic.
He is seeking to get in front of the grassroots market forces that are growing all around him and undercut support for trade sanctions that are limiting his options and drying up government coffers.
His government is especially interested in moving ahead on projects with South Korea, including the re-opening of a tourist resort at Mount Kumgang and an industrial center near the city of Kaesong that were both built with massive funding from the South. North Korea is also hurting badly from its inability to export its minerals and coal.
Having nuclear weapons is what got him to the point where he could meet directly with a U.S. president. So he would be foolish to throw that away without a significant reward. On the other hand, if he goes deep down the capitalist path, like South Korea, Kim could risk undermining his regime’s own legitimacy.
The story of Vietnam, north and south, is in that sense a cautionary tale. The economic reforms and growth of today’s Vietnam only came after unification. For North Korea, the South represents a rival that not only still exists, but is richer and its people are allowed far greater individual freedoms.
Silberstein believes that is not an insurmountable fear for Kim.
“Market reforms are already happening and have been for quite some time, it’s just that Kim Jong Un never formally announced an overhaul of the system,” he said, adding that under Kim, market trade has been allowed to expand, and has even been encouraged by the state to do so. Enterprises have received unprecedented freedom to plan their own production and dispose of a large share of their profits themselves.
“The same has happened in agriculture, and from what we know, the results have been successful,” he said. “I strongly believe that Kim wants to take this process of liberalization further, though it will likely never be called ‘reforms,’ only ‘improvements.’”
“The tricky part is how to balance letting loose on some of the strict social control, such as opening up space for private investments both from abroad and from the general public, changing the governance of private property, massively upgrading communications infrastructure and the like, with still keeping information about the outside world away or at least regulated.”
Silberstein suggested that if given a choice between social controls or economic reforms, Kim will choose control.
“Whatever might happen, they’ll proceed cautiously,” he said.
Talmadge has been the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: EricTalmadge
Follow all of AP’s summit coverage: https://apnews.com/Trump-KimSummit
Trump, Kim share smiles, dinner before nuke talks
By JONATHAN LEMIRE, FOSTER KLUG and DEB RIECHMANN
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, leaders of two nations with a long history of hostilities, opened their second summit Wednesday with smiles, hopeful talk and a friendly dinner that will set the stage for more difficult talks to come about curbing North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Facing widespread skepticism about what they can achieve, the two men exchanged a warm handshake before a phalanx of alternating American and North Korean flags before disappearing for a private, 30-minute pre-dinner chat.
“A lot of things are going to be solved I hope,” Trump said as dinner commenced. “I think it will lead to a wonderful, really a wonderful situation long-term.”
Kim, for his part, said that his country had been “misunderstood” and viewed with “distrust.”
“There have been efforts, whether out of hostility or not, to block the path that we intend to take,” he said. “But we have overcome all these and walked toward each other again and we’ve now reached Hanoi after 261 days” since their first meeting in Singapore.
“We have met again here and I am confident that we can achieve great results that everyone welcomes.”
For all of the optimistic talk, there was broad concern that Trump, eager for an agreement, would give Kim too much and get too little in return — perhaps a peace declaration for the Korean War that the North could use to eventually push for the reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea, for example, or sanctions relief that could allow Pyongyang to pursue lucrative economic projects with the South.
Skeptics insist Trump must first get real progress on the North abandoning its nuclear weapons before giving away important negotiating leverage.
Asked if this summit would yield a political declaration to end the Korean War, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see.”
The two leaders were joined for an intimate dinner by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Kim Yong Chol, a former military spy chief and Kim’s point man in negotiations, and North Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Ri Yong Ho. Interpreters for each side also attended.
As Trump reached for a summit victory abroad, back in Washington his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was prepared to deliver explosive testimony on Capitol Hill that the president is a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.” Unable to ignore the drama playing out thousands of miles away, Trump tweeted that Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress, “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Anticipation for what could be accomplished at the summit ran high in Hanoi. But the carnival-like atmosphere in the Vietnamese capital, with street artists painting likenesses of the leaders and vendors hawking T-shirts showing Kim waving and Trump giving a thumbs-up, contrasted with the serious items on their agenda: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Trump has been trying to convince Kim that his nation could thrive economically like the host country, Vietnam, if he would end his nuclear weapons program.
“I think that your country has tremendous economic potential — unbelievable, unlimited,” Trump said. “I think that you will have a tremendous future with your country — a great leader — and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen.”
The summit venue, the colonial and neoclassical Sofitel Legend Metropole in the old part of Hanoi, came with a dose of history: Trump was trying to talk Kim into giving up his nuclear arsenal at a hotel with a bomb shelter that protected the likes of actress Jane Fonda and singer Joan Baez from American air raids during the Vietnam War.
Trump and Kim first met last June in Singapore, a summit that was long on historic pageantry but short on any enforceable agreements for North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. North Korea has spent decades, at great economic sacrifice, building its nuclear program, and there are doubts that it will give away that program without getting something substantial from the U.S.
The Korean conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, essentially a cease-fire signed by North Korea, China and the 17-nation, U.S.-led United Nations Command. A peace declaration would amount to a political statement, ostensibly teeing up talks for a formal peace treaty that would involve other nations.
North and South Korea also want U.S. sanctions dialed back so they can resurrect two major symbols of rapprochement that provided much-needed hard currency to North Korea: a jointly run factory park in Kaesong and South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort.
Ahead of the private dinner, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders excluded some U.S. reporters, including The Associated Press, after reporters asked questions of Trump during a previous photo opportunity. “Due to the sensitive nature of the meetings we have limited the pool for the dinner to a smaller group,” she said in a statement.
AP journalists Hau Dinh and Hyung-jin Kim in Hanoi and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s summit coverage at https://apnews.com/Trump-KimSummit
Opinion: I Am a North Korean Dissident; Human Rights Matter in My Home
By Joseph Kim
North Korea is the place where I was born and lived until I was 15. It is the place, where at the age of 12, I saw my father wither away and die of starvation; it is also the place where I said my last goodbye to my older sister, not knowing she would never return because she would be forcibly sold to a man in China.
I was an orphan, homeless, and survived for three years during the great famine by begging in the informal North Korean markets, before I escaped to China in 2006. A year later, I came to the United States as the first minor North Korean refugee, thanks to the North Korean Human Rights Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004. I am forever grateful to this nation for giving me the opportunity to experience freedom.
I cannot begin to imagine the challenges President Donald Trump has to face at the Vietnam Summit when he meets with North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong-Un. Achieving the objectives of Complete, Verified, and Irreversible Disarmament and holding the Kim regime accountable for its human rights abuses are indeed difficult tasks.
The nature of the negotiations requires both parties to compromise on certain interests in order to accomplish shared objectives, otherwise we would not call it a negotiation. It would simply be called extortion. But why would North Korea’s human rights abuses be part of that compromise?
Forty-one percent of the North Korean population is undernourished, and 28 percent of children under five have stunted growth. Furthermore, Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program is partially funded by sending North Koreans to places like China and Russia to perform slave labor in exchange for currency.
I recognize North Korea is not the easiest country with which to negotiate. By focusing on less sensitive issues, like aiding people with disabilities, President Trump can take a small step toward addressing human rights abuses.
If human rights is not addressed, it will weaken the power of the United States. I say this for two reasons: one practical and one theoretical that could have grave consequences in the long-term.
The inspiring stories of North Korean refugees are an asset and not a political tool, something I hope the White House agrees with since President Trump invited Ji Seong-Ho and seven other North Korean defectors to the 2018 State of the Union Address. Employing stories of North Korean defectors only for political gain can seriously damage this nation’s reputation.
I urge President Trump to empower North Korean defectors and not exploit them. Otherwise, the international community could start questioning our motivations and intentions, even if the U.S. genuinely advocates for North Korean human rights in the future.
Moreover, I believe what makes America a great nation is not merely having the best military and economic powers. Rather, what makes the United States a great country is its commitment to the nation’s principles and identity. That is to promote and protect universally that all people are equal and entitled to freedom, to be treated fairly with dignity, and the understanding that this is not a privilege reserved for Americans, but all citizens of the world.
As an example, there is no denying that China is rapidly advancing its economic power. But we would not necessarily call China a great nation, unless it treats its people with dignity and respect.
While it is difficult to suggest a new pathway to make the Kim regime give up its nuclear ambitions while pressing human rights issues at the summit, what can be assured is that abandoning U.S. national principles and identity will make America weak. Even if the Vietnam Summit achieves a concrete and comprehensive agreement on denuclearization, failing to address the gulags, slave labor and other human rights abuses is neither an investment nor a gamble. It is simply a lose-lose game.
In the fall of 2013, as I was traveling through South Africa, at the Johannesburg airport I saw a message on the wall, “They call it Africa, but we call it home.” It resonated with me. There is no doubt that North Korea is one of the darkest places in the world, but it is still a home for me and 24 million North Korean people.
For the sake of this nation and for my friends who are still suffering under the North Korean dictatorship, I cannot wish for anything else but a successful outcome of the Vietnam Summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph Kim is a human freedom assistant at the George W. Bush Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Nigeria president’s campaign says he has numbers to win vote
By CARA ANNA and KHALED KAZZIHA
KANO, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s president was poised to win a second term in Africa’s largest democracy, with unofficial results on Tuesday showing a victory, his campaign spokesman said — news that set off celebrations in the capital.
With President Muhammadu Buhari leading by nearly 3.5 million votes, it seemed his call for voters to give him another chance to tackle gaping corruption, widespread insecurity and an economy limping from a rare recession had resonated in the nation of 190 million people.
While many frustrated Nigerians had said they wanted to give someone new a chance, Buhari, a former military dictator, appeared to have retained enough support for victory in an oil-rich nation weary of a long string of politicians enriching themselves instead of the people.
Buhari’s campaign was laying out light refreshments — “nothing heavy, finger food” — and preparing for the president to give his acceptance speech, Babatunde Fashola, campaign director for election monitoring, told The Associated Press as dozens of supporters danced outside party headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
In a last-ditch effort to stop the official declaration of a winner, top opposition challenger Atiku Abubkar demanded a halt to the proceedings, claiming that data from smart card readers used in the vote had been manipulated. His party called for fresh elections in four states: Yobe, Zamfara, Nasarawa and Borno.
Buhari’s party has rejected accusations of manipulation, and Fashola called on Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president who made sweeping campaign promises to “make Nigeria work again,” to provide evidence backing his claims.
Abubakar, who hasn’t made a public appearance since Saturday’s election, should accept his loss gracefully and concede, Fashola added. “Let this nation move forward,” he said.
As the state-by-state announcements of election results passed the halfway mark, Buhari was declared the winner in 15 of Nigeria’s 36 states including its most populous ones, Lagos and Kano. Abubakar won 12, many in the largely Christian south, and the capital’s territory.
Final results weren’t expected until early Wednesday in a race once described as too close to call. The president, who declared victory moments after voting in his hometown, told campaign workers Monday evening: “I congratulate you very much that you have succeeded.”
The vote suffered from a surprise weeklong postponement and significant delays in the opening of polling stations. While election observers called the process generally peaceful, at least 53 people were killed, analysis unit SBM Intelligence said.
The death toll rose after an attack shortly before polls opened and claimed by the Islamic State West Africa Province extremist group in the northeast proved deadlier than first reported, with at least 17 people killed, head of research Cheta Nwanze told the AP on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether Abubakar will follow through on pledges to accept a loss, or challenge the results. A former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, says the troubled election has given the candidates grounds to go to the courts. That route could take months.
In Kano, the heart of the country’s Muslim north, there was relief that the sensitive region appeared to have avoided the deadly violence that occurred in other areas.
“Well, we thank God that at least we finished this safely, without any hitches,” the state electoral commissioner, Riskuwa Shehu, told the AP minutes before carrying results to the capital.
Turnout appeared to be lower than expected, Shehu said, pointing to a number of factors, including the fear of possible violence after heated campaigning. The “disappointment” of a weeklong postponement likely also played a role, he said.
Nigerians’ reactions to Buhari’s apparent victory were mixed.
“Alhamdulillah,” said 36-year-old Umar Ibrahim, using the Arabic phrase for “praise be to God” as he chatted with clients about politics at his tiny shop in Kano. “Up to now they say Buhari is leading, far. He is a good elder.”
Grace Eje, a 25-year-old domestic worker, had held out hope for Abubakar, saying Nigeria needed someone new after Buhari. “No money, no work, no help from him,” she said of the president, grimacing.
Many Nigerians have prayed for peace. They were surprised in 2015 when President Goodluck Jonathan conceded before official results were announced giving victory to Buhari, who pulled off the first defeat of an incumbent by the opposition in the country’s history.
Some are worried that such a concession appears unlikely this time.
“Jonathan set the benchmark on how electoral outcomes should be handled,” Chris Kwaja, a senior adviser to the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S. government-backed institution promoting conflict resolution worldwide, told the AP. “So far, it is unclear what the candidates will do.”
For the presidency, a candidate must win a majority of overall votes as well as at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.
It was not yet clear how many of Nigeria’s estimated 73 million eligible voters turned out. The YIAGA Africa project, which deployed more than 3,900 observers, estimated turnout at between 36 percent and 40 percent, down from 44 percent in 2015.
That would continue the trend of recent elections, even as many Nigerians were praised for their patience and resilience in this bumpy vote.
Kazziha reported from Abuja, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Sam Olukoya in Lagos, Nigeria contributed.
Follow AP’s full coverage of the Nigeria elections here: https://www.apnews.com/Nigeria
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