Chess Match: North Korean Endgame in Toronto

Today in one of Germany’s leading newspapers, the Suddeutsche Zeiting, underneath coverage of the G-20 meeting in Toronto (with optimistic headlines like “In the Canadian wilderness, Merkel and Obama demonstrate a harmony which in reality does not exist”) is a rather interesting story about North Korea:

Christian Wernicke, “Dreimal Schach gegen Pjoengjang: Die Vereinigten Staaten bereiten sich auf ein Ende des Regimes in Nordkorea vor [Triple Check Against Pyongyang: The US Prepares Itself for an End to the Regime in North Korea], SdZ, July 28, 2010, p. 2. [Excerpt translated from the German by Adam Cathcart]

The ability to play chess simultaneously on three boards is not given to every man.  But this past weekend, Barack Obama at the very least made an effort.  On the sidelines of the G8, the US President pressed himself into dialogue with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, and, finally, in a talk with Hu Jintao, asked him to request the truculent North Koreans to talk.  If Obama succeeded, it is open to see: two of the parties continue on in Toronto.

[Discussion of how Cheonan incident adds urgency to G20 sideline discussions]

In the second act, Obama took in his South Korean diplomatic colleague Lee Myung Bak.  In the ongoing Cold War with North Korea, the Koreans long for further backup from their big brother.  And Obama delivered:  Suprisingly, the American president announced that he would ask for a free trade agreement in Washington which his fellow Democrats in Cogress had been blocking for three years. …

Even further is the third party — the game with China.  With sinuous charm  [geschmeidigem Charme], Obama in Canada made “powerful progress” with the Sino-American relationship.  The word “Korea” was never heard, but in the private discussion certainly played a proper role.

Then again, the USA is seeking a risky train of events.  on the one hand, we can take the game begun at the beginning of June, when US Defense Minister Robert Gates sought to meet with Chinese Generals in the luxurious Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore to talk about North Korea.  Washington would like to supply the fall: When the rock-hard regime in Pyongyang falls apart, plans for the crisis need to exist — not only for the nuclear weapons lying in the north half of the Korean peninsula, but for the humanitarian relief for the 23 million people there.

But the question if Korea (as in the German example) will be reunited or will first be a protectorate of the United Nations plagues the Asia experts in Washington.  Gates wanted to feel things out in Singapore — but his attempt to “play castles” [ed.: again the chess metaphor] was shattered by the Beijing generals who as always were angry over the American arms sales to Taiwan.  At the end, Gates had to formally state that “the protocol has it that the United States does not want to see China as an enemy.”

Whereas Gates was blitzed by the Chinese in Singapore, Obama appeared to make more progress with Hu in Toronto.  The American President could at least notch a small success: China’s head of state genially agreed to the invitation of a state visit to Washington.  A chess game, then, in the Oval Office.

Huanqiu Shibao's Korean War Commemoration graphic