Opinion

NoKo, the clown and peace in our time

17 June 2018 - 00:00 By Patrick Bulger

The love-in between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore this week demonstrated in its full luridness the final triumph in world affairs of celebrity over substance, of showmanship over diplomacy. Of floss over gravity. If the big winner is idiocy and TV ratings, the big losers are diplomacy, principle and the poor buggers who live in subhuman conditions in North Korea (or NoKo, as Trump calls it in his tweets, to give it the Disney ring that is his style).
The great and good of the global diplomacy racket are tut-tutting and holding thumbs that nothing comes of Trump's made-for-TV folly majeure. Until Trump came along the US had followed a strict policy of not talking to the big guy (as Trump would call him) in NoKo, namely Kim, and before him, his dad and granddad, who apparently is still not officially dead, although he is as dead as one gets in that country, which is very.
Can we really expect a new Kim, a change from the guy who has people who annoy him executed by blasting them away, arcade-game style, with an anti-aircraft gun? A savage way to treat one's adversaries by any standard, but much, much worse when you realise this has happened to top officials whose only sin was dozing off during meetings with Kim, which is understandable in that he presumably does all the talking. You'd want to keep wide awake, alert to the silent cues, when to laugh, and when to stop laughing, especially. Tough work, even if you do get a deeper bowl of gruel than the neighbour.Does this living monument to abusing humans that is NoKo bother Trump? A cosseted overgrown military-school bully who's hardly blinked through four bankruptcies, who's never known a day's hardship in his life? Don't count on it.
But is it possible that in the magnitude and depth of Trump's ignorance lies the secret that could unlock the path to a united and prosperous Korea, defusing a potential global flashpoint and unleashing a slew of new, unpronounceable brand names? What really worries the professional diplomats who've made careers of not talking to North Korea is that Trump's reality-TV/real-estate-agent approach to world problems might actually work. They needn't fret.
The Nobel peace prize for Trump - race-baiter, other-hater and another good reason to never trust a redhead? Kim would have to share it, if fair's fair, and his record doesn't exactly invite comparison with the Dalai Lama's and scream "peace prize".
Where Trump might find a little more success than his predecessors is that Kim is down to his last shock-grenade to lob at the US. Thanks to the lady in pink pyjamas with flowers in her hair who announces Kim's ballistic escapades on NoKo TV, we all know already what could happen if Kim decides to push his own buttons.
True to his estate-agent character, Trump rather oversold the consumer blessings that might rain down on NoKo should Kim agree to throw in the nuke towel. The four-minute video presuming to showcase a free and prosperous North Korea that Trump showed Kim must have got him thinking he'd won a ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. And a one-on-one with the chief Oompa Loompa himself.Good thing for Kim is that the video has him looking down from an electronic billboard over Times Square in New York, because there's not much of a role, long term, for him in this new fantasy NoKo.
Experts say Kim can't possibly have any interest in a flourishing society and a middle class that would turn against him at the first fuel price hike, although he must know he can't build an economy just on making black suits and dark glasses for the ruling elite.
As Trump said, maybe he'll go for part of the video, and "not the trains and stuff".
Trump's delusions about Kim's willingness to abandon his rule of terror and elite appeasement and, yes, to accept a lesser role in the politics of this sad country, are typical of business-style approaches to countries that have morbid historical hangovers. By their nature, such countries and their rulers tend to be immune to appeals to what Trump no doubt regards as good sense. And good business sense.
Kim has every interest, though, in how an ignorant and possibly well-meaning Trump can help him further strengthen his terror regime. Kim, unlike Trump, still has many years ahead of him. At most he'll have another six years of this dizzy uncle in the condo business.
Peace in our time and all that? I take reality to trump reality TV this time around.
• Peter Bruce is on leave

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