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Weekend catch-up: Singapore summit, China–Pakistan, and diplomacy at the World Cup

The week that was on The Interpreter.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press after the Singapore summit (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press after the Singapore summit (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty)
Published 16 Jun 2018   Follow @lowyinstitute

The meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dominated headlines this week. The Interpreter covered the Singapore summit from a range of angles.

Daniel Flitton on the value of Trump’s circuit-breaking leadership:

If Mutually Assured Destruction is the logic of nuclear deterrence, maybe it will take a MAD idea to break it. Where Trump deserves credit is that an idea this bold, crazy, or brave was never going to emerge from the careful planning of the bureaucracy.

Danielle Chubb and Andrew Yeo on why there was no discussion of human rights at the summit:

The reason North Korea is so reluctant to talk about human rights is precisely because these issues are intricately related. Just as its nuclear program is designed to provide external security assurances, so too does domestic repression and control, particularly restrictions on the freedom of movement and information flows, act as a form of internal security assurance.

Khang Vu on how the summit affects the strategy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in:

If Trump goes ahead with the cessation of military exercises and reduction of US troops without getting North Korea to make any verifiable and irreversible concessions in exchange, he will unravel Moon’s agenda and downplay the stabilising role that US troops have assumed since the end of the Korean War.

Merriden Varrall on China’s reaction to the summit:

China will be pleased by Trump’s unexpected announcement that military exercises between South Korea and the US – or, as Trump described them, ‘provocative war games’ – will cease. Chinese elites couldn’t be more pleased with this language. It exactly mirrors China’s own characterisation of the activities, and lends its narrative credibility.

Sam Roggeveen on the twin pressures facing the US, a volatile North Korea and a competitive China:

We’ve become used to thinking of this situation purely as an arms-control effort, but the real agenda may be economic and political. Rather than getting rid of the nuclear weapons, the intent on both sides may be to sideline them in the relationship by developing a deep economic partnership. As unlikely as that seems, it would be a true coup for Trump and the US, and a major blow to China.

Lauren Richardson on the forgotten question of the North Korean victims of the US nuclear attacks on Japan:

For Trump to acknowledge North Korea’s long-ailing A-bomb victims would be the best way to set the scene for talks on denuclearisation. Consider Barack Obama’s playbook, for instance. When he made an historic visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 2016, paying homage to the nuclear victims, it did wonders for US–Japan relations.

Finally, Mark Briskey commented on the jogging bodyguards that captured the world’s attention:

The men performing these duties are anything but charade-like figures, and they represent only the most obvious face of a large security detail in place to counteract any possible threat to the Supreme Leader, ranging from physical assault to food poisoning. There is, of course, a different reality in the North Korean consideration of counter-intelligence and security, because the North Koreans themselves are practised in the use of nefarious and lethal measures to eliminate threats.

On the other side of Asia, Pakistani elites are enthusiastic about a key pillar of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). David Brewster:

For many in Pakistan, the CPEC has come to resemble a cargo cult: a belief that buckets of Chinese cash will magically descend from the heavens, bringing salvation to Pakistan without the need for painful economic reforms.

Before Air Force One took him to Singapore, Trump attended the G7 summit in Canada, at the conclusion of which he refused to sign the bland communiqué and insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter. Mike Callaghan:

Against the background of Trump’s outrageous actions and comments, other G7 countries, in particular Canada as the chair, scrambled to paper over major schisms and try and present some semblance of consensus. The more summit organisers attempt to pretend there is agreement between countries when there is not, the more it undermines the credibility of other commitments leaders make at their summits.

More than 130 people in Bangladesh have died in what security forces described as drug trafficking–related violence. Syed Badrul Ahsan:

‘Gunfight’ is a progression from earlier descriptions of ‘crossfire’ and ‘shoot-outs’ employed by the security forces to explain their version of events where people taken into their custody died in questionable circumstances.

In March 2018, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a treaty that established maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea with the help of the United Nations Conciliation Commission. Bec Strating and Clive Schofield:

Engaging the parties was critical to the success of the UNCC in helping broker the boundary agreement. While Australia was initially reluctant to engage, objecting to the competence of the commission, once that argument was lost, it participated in ‘good faith’.  The constructive approach of both parties was crucial to the final outcome.

The FIFA World Cup kicked off in Moscow. Alastair Davis:

The United bid was insulated from the Trump factor by Canada’s and Mexico’s involvement, and won 134-65. But it begs the Eurovision question: who voted for who, and how did geopolitics and pettiness play into the decision?

Finally, Anthony Bubalo wrapped up the debate thread on his Lowy Institute Paper, Remaking the Middle East:

In the past, like much of the Western media, I tended to focus on things that were going wrong in the region. Like most ‘hard-nosed’ commentators, I privileged the region’s geopolitics. Or I focused on domestic actors often characterised as defining: regional leaders and their retinues; the military and security services; Islamists and militias. The Arab uprisings were a pretty strong indication that there were other actors around worthy of more attention.

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