NO matter what happens as a consequence of Tuesday’s Singapore summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, the meeting of these two idiosyncratic leaders has been a moment of true global consequence.
It may be, as seasoned observers have said, that North Korea “walks back”, again, from a commitment to denuclearise, as was set out in the joint communique signed by the two men. It may be, also, that North Korea does something – or fails to do something – that annoys the famously volatile US President in the coming days or weeks, and which leads him to dump on his promises, probably via Twitter.
But if the governments of both nations can turn today’s symbolic success into a workable, measurable change of policy on the Korean peninsula, then the man that many until now have believed is manifestly unsuited to be the leader of the free world will have achieved something that has eluded his predecessors, and which few outside of his own supporters gave him any real hope of pulling off.
Despite the cartoonish sides to both leaders, the stand-off over North Korea is probably the most critical interface between the democratic West and the totalitarian East anywhere on the planet.
In the same way that we in the West regard North Korea as a client state of China, so the North Koreans and Chinese view South Korea as a proxy for the US.
In this way, the outcome in North Korea stands as a symbol of the broader interplay between China and the West. Regardless of whether the US is a diminishing power or not, there is no avoiding the fact that Chinese strength – economically and militarily – is on the rise. This is the bigger picture behind the already substantial set of issues that are now hopefully closer than ever to resolution on the Korean peninsula.
Sitting where we are in regional NSW, there is nothing that we can do to influence things. And hopefully, the only way that events in Korea will impact on us is in a positive sense, if the two sides can see their way fit to ending a decades-long standoff that has taken on a new and troubling importance in the decade since North Korea began its nuclear testing.
As the Sentosa statement says, this was an “epochal event” of “great significance” for the “opening up of a new future”.