Story of unpaid bills

Published On: June 20, 2018 01:30 AM NPT By: Basant Kumar Chaudhary

The fact that Gurkha policemen were selected to protect the US and North Korean leaders and their teams made my chest swell with pride

Only die-hard optimists can expect sane outcome when two crazy leaders negotiate. But miracles still happen as I discovered during my current visit to Singapore. The world too is astounded at the normal conduct of the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the island nation of Singapore.

Given the highly unpredictable behavioral patterns of the two leaders, one does not know to what extent the two will honor the commitments mentioned in the post-summit joint statement. One can only pray that words get translated into reality to protect the world from a nuclear conflagration.

Though the joint statement is wrapped in ambiguity, it does talk of denuclearization by North Korea and a stop by the US of military exercise (war games) with its old ally South Korea. However, US sanctions against North Korea will remain in place. According to Trump, denuclearization of North Korea will begin “very, very quickly” and the process will be rigorously monitored. 

However, military experts and nuclear scientists claim that it will take at least 15 years to totally dismantle North Korea’s atomic weapons arsenal and inter-continental ballistic missile capability. 

That is a long time and the world will have to be extremely watchful about the progress in the peace process. As such, the world powers are wary about the lack of clarity in the joint statement. Much is left to interpretation. But, sooner than later, the US and other Western nations should start going easy on the sanctions against the ultra-dictatorial North Korea. This will reduce the plight of impoverished North Koreans and will motivate Kim to honor his commitment.

After all, it is obvious that Kim owes his nuisance value only to his nuclear capability and terror tactics even against his own citizenry. But the common North Korean needs bread too and can’t be kept under the thumb by a maverick totalitarian regime forever.

What Singapore thinks 

While all this lies in the realm of the unpredictable future, I would like to bring to our readers the Singapore narrative where I have been staying since before the historic summit. What does the development mean for Singapore and how do Singaporeans view it?

Singapore is a city-state and island country with less than six million populations. So it is not too difficult to gauge the mood of the nation on an issue as vital and volatile as the Trump-Kim meeting. One just needs to talk to the people around as the news media here is not completely independent. 

I could easily feel the disgruntlement among the younger Singaporeans over the “$ 20 million” spent over this engagement. (There is no consensus however over exact amount). But Singapore is in the forefront of Asian Tiger economies with per capita income of $ 61, 766. Its estimated GDP, for year 2018, stands at $ 349.659 billion. So the summit expense is actually a pittance for Singapore. 

But the youth see it differently. The summit has nothing to do with Singapore directly. The stakeholders are the US and North Korea. The US has taken care of its share of expense and is thankful to Singapore for playing the neutral host for a global crisis deliberation. It is North Korea that is refusing to pay the bills incurred by Kim and his large contingent. This comes as no surprise to other countries as North Korea has made a practice of this. Though Kim is believed to be a dollar billionaire in his personal capacity, the economy of his communist country is in a shambles.

In the interest of world peace, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of non-governmental organizations worldwide, volunteered to foot the bills for North Korea. 

 “Our movement is committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons and we recognize that this historic summit is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to work for peace and nuclear disarmament,” Akira Kawasaki, an ICAN international steering group member, said in a statement. “The Nobel Peace Prize included a cash prize and we are offering funds from the prize to cover the costs for the summit, in order to support peace in the Korean Peninsula and a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

According to media reports, other organizations and even the US has been willing to foot the bill. But since the egotistic dictator could find payment by the US an insult, it was considered that Singapore may help out North Korea.

Perception and reality 

This is obviously not to the liking of Singapore’s youth who view Kim as a thug blackmailing South Korea and its allies with its nuclear weapons. There is an obvious trust deficit towards a dictator who lets his people starve while threatening his enemies with atomic bombs and ICBMs. He cocked a snook at the world by launching a 5000-km range missile almost on the eve of the Singapore summit.

Trump’s reported assurance to Kim that he could remain North Korea’s ruler for ever if he agreed to denuclearize has also not gone down well with young Singapore professionals, businessmen and entrepreneurs. The dictator does not command any faith in any quarter except its current mentor China. Till this point, it is still not clear what has happened to Kim and his team’s bills for his five-star hotel stay and other privileges.

However, Singapore’s elderly citizens sound more pragmatic and farsighted. The island nation is already a prosperous country known for its integrity and fair business practices. Pitching in favor of North Korea will position it as a responsible global citizen as well. This perception will fetch strategic and geo-political benefits for Singapore where the East met the West.

Personally, what gladdened me the most was the sight of Gurkha policemen providing security for the global meet. Singapore’s police force has 1800 Gurkha officers. The fact that they were selected to protect the US and North Korean presidents and their teams made my chest swell with pride.

The author is Poet and Writer and also Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. Views are personal 

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