Educating Kim Jung Un

The sudden break up in Hanoi was no coincidence. It was all choreographed before Trump set foot in Vietnam. Trump has used nearly every public opportunity to try to lower mounting pressure ahead of the historic meeting. As late as last week, even before he went to Vietnam, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office in response to a question about North Korea, “We’re in no rush whatsoever. … As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.” It’s a comment he’s made before, but it carries more weight now that he mentioned it again before the February 27 meeting. Then just before leaving, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the Hanoi summit likely won’t be the last time he meets with Kim.

What is being done here is NOT simply conducting a negotiation over North Korea’s nuclear program, but more importantly, Kim Jung Un is being slowly, but surely educated in how to transform North Korea. It’s very subtle, but incredibly effective.

It was no coincidence that they met in Singapore first then Hanoi. These were two shining cities that could serve to educate the reclusive North Koreans on what could be done, what could be achieved, what the possibilities might be – if and only if — North Korea plays ball.

It is clear, that whoever is responsible for managing these meetings has a completely separate agenda.

Singapore is a shining city in the  sea!

Fifty years ago, the city-state of Singapore was an undeveloped country with a GDP per capita of less than US $320. Today, it is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Its GDP per capita has risen to an incredible US $60,000, making it the sixth highest in the world based on Central Intelligence Agency figures. For a country that lacks territory and natural resources, Singapore’s economic ascension is nothing short of remarkable. By embracing globalization, free-market capitalism, education, and strict pragmatic policies, the country has been able to overcome their geographic disadvantages and become a leader in global commerce.

Upon independence, in 1965, much of the city-state’s three million people were unemployed. More than two-thirds of its population was living in slums and squatter settlements on the city’s fringe. The territory was sandwiched between two large and unfriendly states in Malaysia and Indonesia. It lacked natural resources, sanitation, proper infrastructure, and adequate water supply. In order to stimulate development, Singapore sought international assistance, but his pleas went unanswered, leaving Singapore to fend for itself.

Singapore quickly became an autocracy. The country’s draconian, but business-friendly laws became very appealing to international investors. In contrast to their neighbors, where political and economic climates were unpredictable, Singapore on the other hand, was very predictable and stable. Moreover, with its advantageous relative location and established port system, Singapore was an ideal place to manufacture out of.

By 1972, just seven years after independence, one-quarter of Singapore’s manufacturing firms were either foreign-owned or joint-venture companies, and both the U.S. and Japan were major investors. As a result of Singapore’s steady climate, favorable investment conditions and the rapid expansion of the world economy from 1965 to 1972, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) experienced annual double-digit growth. In the 1970s, Singapore was primarily exporting textiles, garments, and basic electronics. By the 1990s, they were engaging in wafer fabrication, logistics, biotech research, pharmaceuticals, integrated circuit design, and aerospace engineering.

The Port of Singapore is now the world’s busiest transshipment port, surpassing Hong Kong and Rotterdam. In terms of total cargo tonnage handled, it has become the world’s second busiest, behind only the Port of Shanghai.

Despite its small size, Singapore is now the fifteenth largest trading partner of the United States. The country has established strong trade agreements with several countries in South America, Europe, and Asia, as well. There are currently over 3,000 multinational corporations operating in the country, accounting for more than two-thirds of its manufacturing output and direct export sales.

With a total land area of just 433 square miles and a small labor force of 3 million people, Singapore generates a GDP that exceeds $300 billion dollars annually, higher than three-quarters of the world. Life expectancy is at an average of 83.75 years, making it the third highest globally. The corruption minimal and so is the crime. It is one of the best places to live on earth if you don’t mind the strict rules. Singapore’s economic model of sacrificing freedom for business is highly controversial and heavily debated. But regardless of philosophy, its effectiveness is certainly undeniable.

Vietnam serves a useful purpose too.

As a former enemy of the United States, the political and economic transformation of Vietnam, too, is remarkable.  Along with Singapore, it serves as a useful model for what North Korea can achieve also.

A mere 30 years ago, the country was one of the poorest in the world. Vietnam’s development record over the past 30 years is remarkable. Economic and political reforms have spurred rapid economic growth and development and transformed Vietnam from one of the world’s poorest nations to a lower middle-income country.

Vietnam’s economy is performing well, propelled by the sustained global recovery and continued domestic reforms. Robust growth is boosting job creation and income growth, leading to broad-based welfare gains and poverty reduction.

In 1986, the government introduced “Đổi Mới”, a series of economic and political reforms, and steered the country to becoming a “socialist-oriented market economy”. Today, Viet Nam is one of the stars of the emerging markets universe. Its economic growth of 6-7% rivals China GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343). Corrected for purchasing power, it stands even higher, at over $6,000. In a similar fashion to Singapore, Vietnam has done all this, while retaining strict political controls. its Press freedom among the worst in the world, citizens are increasingly surveilled online, and human rights activists not welcome.

Japanese and Korean electronics companies like Samsung, LG, Olympus and Pioneer and countless European and American apparel makers set up shop in the country. By 2017, the Financial Times reported, Viet Nam was the largest exporter of clothing in the region and the seconder largest exporter of electronics (after Singapore)

The Train Ride

Not to be forgotten is the path Kim Jung Un took to get to Vietnam. Instead of taking a short flight to Vietnam’s capital, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rattled through China on his armored train, journeying south from Pyongyang over 2,000 miles to meet Trump.

The trip is another way of educating Kim on what a communist regime that engages with capitalism can achieve: Bustling cities, a productive countryside, and a populace (largely) content to concentrate on the business of becoming rich (or at least less poor).

He took a train ride through China – viewing the huge disparity between rural china and urban china in the process. He saw the stark contrast and the incredible vistas of new cities being developed along the railroad path. Bits of his passage through the country have been recorded and posted on social media (here, as the train drives through Zhengzhou, Henan province; and here, in Yongzhou, Hunan province).

To keep Kim Jung Un’s education process rolling, we are begged with a question, where would the next summit with Trump be? And what will the timing of the next meeting be?

This last one, in Vietnam, was obviously designed to knock off the heat from Cohen’s house testimony, and ‘move’ the process along.

But to really wrap things up, Trump needs to first get a deal with China. North Korea can not open up, until a deal with China is struck.

What is not so well understood is, that Vietnam is now at peak capacity. There is very limited growth going forward in Vietnam because of massive demographic shortcomings. Singapore too, is limited. China’s fast rising labor rates too are precluding significant growth in manufacturing there.

The Apples and Samsungs of the world need to find a new low-cost production hub. But these investments must wait until a ‘deal’ with China is struck. No one knows what to produce in North Korea, because it depends solely on what will NOT be produced in China. And this will be clarified once China strikes a deal with Trump.

Trump was just kicking the can in Vietnam. Meanwhile there was a photo-op, some headline grabbing and another effort at educating Kim Jong Un!

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