World

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Korean Demilitarized Zone. Indonesians filing lawsuit against government over Jakarta smog. Carrie Lim urged to quit as Hong Kong chief. Kamala Harris’s moment. By Jonathan Pearlman.

History made as Trump runs DMZ

US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, meet in the joint security area of Panmunjom, in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.
Credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

North Korea: At 3.46pm last Sunday, Donald Trump stepped over the small concrete barrier that separates South Korea and North Korea in the demilitarised zone between the neighbours, who are technically at war. “Big moment, big moment,” said Trump as he greeted a cheerful Kim Jong-un.

Trump’s brief journey into North Korea made history. No other sitting United States president, as he pointed out, has entered the country. But Trump had already made history last year, when he held a summit with Kim in Singapore and became the first president to meet a North Korean leader.

Previous presidents insisted on guaranteed concessions before meeting members of the Kim dynasty. In contrast, Trump believes his rapport with 35-year-old Kim – they have exchanged “beautiful” letters – will lead to a breakthrough. But, so far, he appears to have gained little from his grand gestures.

The Singapore summit produced a vague statement about denuclearisation but no clear commitment from Kim to dismantle his nuclear program. A second summit in Hanoi, aimed at agreeing on more detailed steps, ended in failure after Kim apparently insisted on an end to sanctions in exchange for shutting down part of North Korea’s main nuclear facility.

Trump and Kim are now considering a third summit. In the US, a split has emerged in the White House between those who want to offer small concessions to Kim and those who insist the process must start with complete denuclearisation.

In North Korea, Kim, too, revelled in the history. The state-controlled media featured saturation coverage of his “amazing” meeting with Trump. But Kim’s exact intentions remain unclear. He has been shifting the regime’s focus from security to the economy, which is seen as the best sign he may be eventually willing to alter history on the peninsula.

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Indonesia: In Jakarta, residents track the city’s ever-worsening smog by using apps that monitor the air quality. Last month, AirVisual, one of the most popular trackers, showed the city was ranked, on several occasions, as the world’s most polluted, above notorious offenders such as Delhi and Beijing.

The pollution, which is believed to cause thousands of deaths a year, has prompted a group of 57 residents and campaigners to launch a lawsuit against the government to compel it to take action. The claimants, including senior citizens, artists and app-based motorcycle taxi drivers, plan to file their suit against the president and several ministers and governors.

The heavy smog is believed to be due to car and motorbike pollution, as well as coal-fired power plants, factories and illegal burning of waste.

Greenpeace Indonesia has called for the government to improve its monitoring and update its 20-year-old regulation on air pollution.

But the city government has dismissed the latest concerns and disputes the pollution levels recorded by the monitoring apps.

On Monday, the acting head of Jakarta’s environment agency, Andono Warih, said the conditions were “not that bad”. He said the spread of finer, more dangerous pollution particles was partly due to dust from construction projects. “[This] is a normal thing in a developing metropolis,” he said.

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Hong Kong: On Monday morning, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, oversaw the raising of the Chinese flag at a ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of the handover of the city from Britain to China.

Elsewhere, almost 200,000 people marched to call for her resignation and to demand an end to moves to erode the city’s autonomy and freedoms.

In the afternoon, a small group of protesters decided, as one reportedly put it, to “go radical”. Wearing hard hats and face masks, they broke into the legislative council building and overran the debating chamber, where they displayed British-era colonial flags. It was a symbolic scene, including graffiti daubed across the walls saying “Oppose Chinese colonialism”. But the protesters tried to stay on message: they apparently left money behind for the soft drinks they took from the cafeteria and were careful not to damage books and other cultural artefacts.

The protest capped weeks of mass demonstrations against the pro-China legislature’s controversial law to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Lam has suspended the bill but has not withdrawn it and has refused to step down. At 4am on Tuesday, she held a press conference inside the police headquarters, saying she was “outraged and distressed” by the scenes of violence.

The public has been united in its opposition to Lam and to Beijing’s creeping influence, but appears to be split over the move to occupy the legislature. Unlike some previous pro-democracy campaigns, this one appears to lack an organised front. But this, according to some of those involved, is deliberate. Without a recognisable leader, it is hoped authorities will find it harder to shut down the movement.

SPOTLIGHT: Kamala Harris

United States: In 1954, the US Supreme Court put an end to racial segregation at American public schools, but the practice largely continued because districts were strongly divided along racial lines. To fix the problem, districts began “busing”, or transporting black children to schools in more affluent white areas.

On one such bus, in Berkeley in 1969, Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India and father was from Jamaica, rode to her first day at school. She went on to become a prosecutor, then attorney-general in California, then a US senator, and now a presidential candidate.

Last weekend, Harris captured the nation’s attention during the first round of Democratic debates following a standout moment in which she attacked Joe Biden, the frontrunner and former vice-president. Weeks earlier, Biden had proudly claimed he had been able to conduct business in the senate with two segregationists. Harris said the comments were “hurtful” and, going further, said during the debate that Biden had worked with the pair to oppose busing.

“And you know,” she said, “there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me.”

The moment, apparently planned, caught Biden off guard and led to Harris being unofficially declared the debate’s winner. Within minutes, her campaign was selling “That little girl was me” T-shirts. In 24 hours, she had raised $US2 million from 63,277 online donors.

Harris, who supports tighter gun laws and abortion rights, is not firmly camped in the party’s moderate or progressive wings but is closer to the latter.

When she announced her candidacy in January, she was considered a favourite and attracted 20,000 people to her opening rally, more than the initial crowds for Barack Obama in 2007 or Bernie Sanders in 2015. But, until the debate, her campaign had been flagging.

Polls showed Harris had a significant lift but remains behind Biden. There are 25 Democratic candidates, all seeking to gain ground or at least attention. Harris has been compared to Obama, but he had to face only seven other candidates in his campaign. It will be a long race.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 6, 2019 as "History made as Trump runs DMZ". Subscribe here.

Jonathan Pearlman
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.