A love and hate triangle at work

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Oct 2018

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently sent US President Donald Trump a "love" letter, proposing that they meet again after their successful first date in Singapore in June.

It's a letter that Trump had been waiting for. He gladly accepted the invitation and delegated one of his most trusted cabinet members - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - to set up the rendezvous. The spy-turned-diplomat has not disappointed his boss.

The only thing to monitor is when that get-together will take place. Will Kim agree to meet Trump between now and the US mid-term elections in early November?

The timing matters. Although it isn't absolutely urgent for Kim to see his strange bedfellow so soon, it's in Trump's interest - as well as that of his fellow Republicans - to let the meeting happen, the sooner the better.

It isn't really necessary for the second date to lead to substantial progress in denuclearization in North Korea because, as long as the summit takes place, White House spin doctors will handle the rest of the work to create a story line appealing to American voters.

If "Trump, the skilful deal maker" is a claim too outdated to repeat, they may portray the president as a strongman if he so wishes. That would be trendy enough to conform with the worrying international norm of ultra-rightists ascending to power.

The sly Kim is fully aware of this little trick in his relationship with Trump.

Before Kim made latest overture, Trump was embarrassed by a lack of progress in North Korea's denuclearization program since their first tete-a-tete in Sentosa, Singapore. Throwing Trump a lifeline at the critical moment could save him from the embarrassment.

However, Kim has to face another in his relationship triangle. What would President Xi Jinping think now that he and Trump are estranged?

Kim understands his Chinese patron Xi more than any of the so-called China experts around Trump. Having already visited Xi three times this year, Kim knows he needs to play the balancing act if he wants to keep the triangle steady.

The trick worked when Xi and Trump were still best buddies. But now that they've fallen out, would the same trick be useful?

China wouldn't oppose Kim wooing Trump, but if possible, may not wish to see the second meeting held so soon - at least not before November 6. The reasons are too obvious to require further explanation.

This can be a dilemma for "Fatty Kim III." The North Korea strongman understands that if he delays the second summit until after the US mid-term vote, its meaning to Trump would diminish, and Trump may even lose that loving feeling to bother proceeding at all.

On the other hand, if Kim grants Trump's wish - albeit at the risk of upsetting Trump's ex-pal Xi - will the "Mentally Deranged Dotard" give "Little Rocket Man" a passionate kiss, including the lifting of economic sanctions?

So, how would you choose if you were Kim?

South Korean President Moon Jae In, the messenger, seems to know the answer.

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