Dhaka, Bangladesh
ASEAN ‘co-prosperity’

OFF THE TRACK

ASEAN ‘co-prosperity’

Donald Kirk

BUSAN ? Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, had his hands in his pockets and a bored expression on his rugged face as President Moon Jae-in extolled high-tech Korean manufacturers on the big day of his summit with the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries. Having sat or stood through a lot of briefings, I could empathize with Duterte’s desire to be almost anywhere else except in front of some smoothie trying to sell a product. Most of the assembled potentates endured Moon’s sales talk with admirable patience, even the odd show of interest. You have to hand it to Moon for having gotten all them together under one roof for the biggest mass summit ever staged here. But why was Moon so eager to court the leaders from all 10 members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations? What impelled him to order the tremendous planning, the entertainment, the security, the dinners, the media facilities that go into a summit? Clearly Moon needs to get away from economic troubles at home, to distract from conservative opposition, to demonstrate that he’s still the leader that he appeared to be in the “snap election” of 2017 after the Candlelight Revolution that drove Park Geun-hye from office and into jail. It might be easy to dismiss the Busan summit as a show of little substance, but the statements that emerged at the end of the confab betrayed a certain desperation. Moon faces criticism not only for the slowdown of the economy, for unemployment and underemployment, for faltering production and exports but also for getting nowhere with North Korea. Korea’s economy has gone through ups downs over the years and may well recover, as in the past, but dialog with the North has never worked in the end. Moon would have scored a triumph of incredible proportions had he managed to persuade Kim Jong-un to come on down and join the party. We’ve been quite surprised over the past year-and-a-half by the three summits Moon scored with Kim and also by the two summits between Kim and President Trump. You always have to expect the unexpected. It should be clear by now, however, that reconciliation with Kim is not happening. There was no way that Kim would fly down to Busan. The deepest he has gone into South Korea was a few feet across the line at Panmunjeom. For him to venture beyond the Demilitarized Zone, into real South Korean territory, would have been out of the question. Similarly, Moon keeps dreaming of other shows of reconciliation. He honestly believed that Pope Francis, while visiting Japan, might see Kim at Panmunjeom, and that Kim might have consented to meet the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics when Christian worship in Kim’s kingdom is a cardinal offense, punishable by death.

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