Compromises and grand bargain time ahead


The State Department briefing on North Korea was a diplomatic equivalent of a mic drop, the thing when hip hop artists do when they drop their microphone after a particularly pithy innuendo laden verbiage. That’s what I am told, I am obviously too old for hip hop. Anyway, after North Korea launched another missile, the state department said in a statement by Secretary Rex Tillerson, that they don’t have anything more to say. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Short, pithy, ominous. Nothing like this have been seen in a diplomatic communique before, which are mostly long drawn, and vague. This means that the time for talk is up.

Almost within hours, President Donald Trump in an exclusive interview with Financial Times stated the often-pronounced charge, that it’s time push comes to the proverbial shove with regards to North Korea. “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” Trump said in the interview. But this is clear, Trump is readying himself, and US for a grand bargain with China. And in politics, every offer of bargain, implicitly comes with a threat of noncompliance. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” This time, the threat is real. The time for talks is over, at least from the US side.

This is a huge change. Forget everything that one can read in op-eds in newspapers, about how the upcoming meeting is a clash of differing values, ideologies etc, about how everything will be hinged on the personal chemistry of the leaders. Nothing like that will matter in the long run. The visit of President Xi to US is considered to be a power politics, as old as the 18th century. This is international relations at its earliest form, this is the language of realpolitik, at its peak and prime, at its most raw.

Let’s simplify the situation then.

US is being positioned to meet China, Trump meeting Xi is the “here comes the big boys” of world politics. Before leaving, President Obama took Trump to a side and warned him that there is one problem, that is different than every other problem in the world, that is North Korea. On one hand, there is China who is also tired of North Korea, but due to the complicated regional dynamics and the historical legacy of the region, the problem is stagnated.

The difference this time is that China is stable, while the United States is divided, and is feeling threatened by North Korea. This is first time, the country might have a missile system which will be able to reach mainland US, and that is a limit not for crossing. It is evident from Trump’s own words that he is looking for a mega deal. “I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so” he continued in the FT interview. China on the other hand, courted by Australia, Britain and EU, is now also touted as a leader and more importantly a defender of globalization, and global trade, and is in a relatively comfortable situation. With the Syrian war crimes, Russian bombing, and North Korean missiles, China and trade seems to be a far off.

But it is not so. It is all part of this realpolitik. The grand bargain that is being touted, will be exactly that, a grand bargain…which will be offers about trade, mutually beneficial deals over North Korea, or South China Sea, etc. The question is what’s on offer from either side. Every policy maker knows that no one ever gets everything he or she wants in life, and the same holds true for political compromises. Before the Helsinki Accords between Soviets and Americans, no one was sure, due to the extreme animosity that there will be any agreement However, that summit changed the history between two powers, and led to the missile control treaties of the 80s, because both sides were willing to offer compromises. So, steely spine and strong offers time, and some intense compromises are in front of both the countries.

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