Kim Jong-un and Putin met at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East, and it was a meeting of minds and souls.
After a record-breaking 40-second handshake, Kim promised Putin his unwavering support in Russia’s “sacred fight” against the West. He was “sure that the Russian army and people will win against evil”, and he was eager to form with Russia a single “anti-imperialist” front.
There is nothing new about this phraseology. It comes straight from the communist phrasebook in circulation since the early 1950s, when the West began to live in fear of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets.
Now the language is back, as is the situation that inspired it. Russia is no longer communist, technically speaking, North Korea still is, as is China. Yet the word “evil” used by Kim should emphasise how meaningless political nomenclatures are.
‘Communism’, ‘socialism’, various brands of ‘democracy’, ‘capitalism’ – none of these rubrics comes close to designating the subcutaneous reality of the modern world. That is the never-ending clash between good and evil, in which no compromise is possible and no middle ground exists.
In this case, the ultimate confrontation is between the West, good relatively speaking, and the new axis of absolute evil: fascist Russia and communist North Korea, both increasingly controlled by communist China. Kim’s view of who plays the evil part is different, but he understands the dichotomy.
Alas, the West no longer thinks in such absolutist categories. That’s a mistake, for not knowing where the battle lines are drawn puts one at a disadvantage.
I’m sure Kim Jong-un feels like a top dog, being mentioned as an equal in that company. Although, considering his people’s culinary preferences, he probably wouldn’t use this particular canine expression.
For decades North Korea has been a client state of the Soviet Union and China, a poor relation totally dependent on the adjacent evil empires for her supply of weapons, food and just about everything else. Yet now Putin, heir to the USSR, comes to Kim with an outstretched hand, begging for artillery shells and anti-tank missiles. Kim must be puffed up with pride, with the puffing up hard to miss in his photographs.
He also has enough animal smarts to know he is in a unique bargaining position, vis-à-vis not only Russia, but also the West. I can almost hear Kim’s singsong: “That’s gonna cost you…”
It’s definitely quid pro quo. If Korean weapons are the quid, then what’s the quo? In addition to the cash on the nail payment for the weapons, it’s almost certainly transfer of Russian nuclear and rocket technology. Since Kim already brags about having an ICBM that can reach the American coast, Putin could equip it with a rather nasty payload.
The traditional Western diplomacy based on sanctions has always been ineffective and in this case it’s especially impotent. Kim doesn’t fear sanctions because he is already under every conceivable one. And the Russians, though undoubtedly hurt by Western sanctions, have learned to get around them, with a little help from their Chinese friends.
Hence Kim can now send a quiet message to the West: if you don’t want me to replenish Putin’s stockpiles, remove the sanctions.
I wouldn’t put it past our craven leaders to accept such a deal, which would enable Kim to develop nuclear weapons even without Putin’s help. One way or the other, places like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan may soon become too dangerous for human habitation.
There is room in foreign relations for nuanced attempts to explore various hues between black and white. But there also ought to be room for not doing so. Ronald Reagan understood that, which is why he openly spoke of the axis of evil.
Today’s Western leaders think they can talk their way out of trouble, find a path to lasting peace so far unexplored. But they are wrong about that: the path of appeasement or at best half-hearted resistance is well-trodden.
The only way to start dealing with the current evil the way it should be dealt with is supplying the Ukraine with everything she needs to win this war. Should that happen, Putin’s regime would probably collapse. Russia would no longer need Kim’s ordnance, and he wouldn’t be able to blackmail the West.
That is relatively easy, or would be if Reagan and Thatcher were still around. The problem of China is much more serious, and it’s all the West’s fault. We have systematically built up China, turning it into a monster with realistic ambitions to dominate the world.
Part of it was the West’s inertia, not to say cowardice. Yet also coming into play was the problem I mentioned earlier: the inability to comprehend the nature – indeed the existence – of unvarnished evil.
Coupled with that was the misplaced belief in the redemptive power of free enterprise. The West believed that, once China privatised much of her economy and began to compete in the free market, she would become a country just like us. She would remain communist only nominally, the way Britain is Christian.
All those decades of confrontation with communism taught no lesson to the West, but then history never does. We still refuse to acknowledge the evil nature of any communist regime, with or without free enterprise. And evil regimes pursue evil ends – history serves up no exceptions to this rule.
When China began to adopt a pragmatic, that is deceptively pro-Western, approach to the economy, sighs of relief were heard throughout Western governments. The Chinese are like us, hedonistic, money-mad chaps free of any ideology, whatever language they use in domestic communications.
Although we had a vested, vital interest in keeping China as weak as possible, we have systematically built her up to her present status of a global power with far-reaching imperial ambitions.
Disengaging China from the world economy now would be practically impossible. Instead the West has to pump all the profits made from trade with China, multiplied by orders of magnitude, into arming itself against the Chinese threat. For all I know, it may already be too late, and in any case no appetite for such an effort is discernible.
‘Pragmatic’ voices in Washington, London and other Western capitals are talking about creating a new, Sino-Western, world order. They want to sup with the devil, forgetting that no spoon will ever be long enough.
China is effectively turning both Russia and North Korea into her vassals, thus gaining immense geopolitical clout. She is already getting Russian natural resources at half the price, and she is already colonising the Russian Far East and Siberia at an ever-increasing pace.
North Korea can act as China’s stormtroopers, ready to pounce on designated enemies when China decides the time is right. And meanwhile Kim is talking on even terms with Putin, the luxury his grandfather, Kim I, couldn’t afford when talking to Khrushchev or Brezhnev.
We live in fraught times, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time we began to do something about that in earnest before we find out exactly how fraught.