Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
The line-up of warplanes on display beside the runway at Seoul Air Base has got to be intimidating. The sight of the latest American F35s and F22s along with all those South Korean fighters may frighten anyone contemplating war on the Korean Peninsula. They’re parked near spacious exhibition halls where manufacturers from dozens of nations
show off aircraft components, and entire planes and helicopters, for potential buyers from around the world.
The Seoul Air Show this week could hardly be better timed. While planes of all sorts are strutting their stuff, roaring around above spectators, about 40 U.S. and Korean warships are churning the surf off both coasts in what is ostensibly a training mission but is really a show of force.
On the first day of the air show and the war games came news that Donald Trump will be in Seoul next month meeting President Moon Jae-In and addressing the National Assembly.
The visit should solidify ideas and strategy while North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un shows no signs of compromising on his nukes and missiles.
Trump will get to Seoul after a couple of days in Tokyo hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his next stop after Korea will be Beijing and another conversation with President Xi Jinping, whom he hosted at Mar-a-Lago in April.
It’s as though Korea were on the cusp of war or peace. Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all said they’re ready for anything, and the presence of some of the most advanced air and naval hardware in and around South Korea sends a message that Kim Jong-Un is not likely to ignore.
How Kim responds while Trump is courting the leaders of all the countries surrounding him is another matter. It’s quite possible Trump’s travels through the region, also including stops in Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, won’t have the least effect on his defiance of global pressure in either the United Nations or the region.
It will be interesting, though, to see if Trump makes a quick trip to Panmunjom for a first-hand look at the North Koreans across the line. That’s a standard stop for high-level visitors, a chance to shake a symbolic fist at North Korea and utter a few fiery words. Or he could actually soften the rhetoric, come out with a message of goodwill and turn the occasion into a chance to lessen tensions.
It’s possible, with that goal in mind, to engage in a little wishful thinking. How about if Trump said he would like to meet Kim Jong-Un?
What if he suggested in advance that maybe he and Kim sit down for a talk at Freedom House on the line between the two Koreas? Why, they might even munch on hamburgers as Trump suggested last year during his presidential campaign.
Ok, let’s get serious. A Trump-Kim summit is not remotely possible. The last thing Kim is going to do is go to Panmunjom to meet the American president. Still, it’s nice to imagine the possibilities.
Think how simple it could be to open up the border to mail and commerce, tourism and reunions of long-lost relatives ― not just a reunion every now and then, depending on the whims of the North Korean leadership, but every day, every weekend.
Then there’s the other scenario, which is equally fanciful. The U.S. navy has a submarine off the east coast from which a “decapitation” team is said to be operating.
Maybe they’re acting out landings on the beach, then sneaking up to knock off their imaginary target. Probably no word, aside from Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, so enrages the North Koreans as “decapitation.” It’s not hard to understand why.
There’s an aura of make-believe, though, about the whole show. It’s as if the Americans and South Koreans were staging a great circus. We don’t get to see what those ships at sea are doing, but the planes that crisscross over South Korea just below the north-south line, warning Kim Jong-Un, are there in all their glory this week at Seoul Air Base.
Seeing them bright and shining on the tarmac, one forgets the holy hell they might inflict if Trump’s summits with regional leaders do not go well and he goes for the military option.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in the region for decades.