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An improbable friendship

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t,” wrote Mark Twain. Nothing proves it better than the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on Tuesday. No reality TV show could have scripted an episode with greater suspense and drama than what the two leaders successfully imparted to their meeting.

Mr. Trump, the 72-year-old leader of one of the world’s oldest democracies, an $18 trillion economy with a 1.3 million strong military, of whom 28,500 troops are deployed in South Korea, and Chairman Kim, at 34 the third-generation leader of a totalitarian state with an impoverished economy estimated at less than $40 billion and a military force of 1.2 million with a newly acquired nuclear capability, make for an unusual couple. And yet, as Mr. Trump said, “From the beginning we got along.” Describing Mr. Kim as “very talented”, he recalled with a degree of empathy that the North Korean had faced a challenge when he took over his country at just 26 years.

Art of making friends

Less than a year ago, the heightened rhetoric on both sides had led to growing concerns about the possibility of a nuclear exchange as North Korea ramped up its nuclear and missile testing programmes. In September 2017, it conducted its sixth nuclear test, declaring it a thermonuclear device, a claim that has been disputed. However, with a yield of 100-300 kt (kiloton), it marked a significant improvement from earlier tests. Four of the six tests have been undertaken by Mr. Kim with a view to miniaturising the device to fit a missile warhead.

Simultaneously, he accelerated the missile programme conducting over 80 flight tests during the last seven years, compared to 16 undertaken by his father from 1994 to 2011. At least three new missiles have been successfully tested and inducted. These include the Musudan (around 3,500 km), Hwasong 12 (4,500 km) and Hwasong 14 (around 10,000 km). Last November, Hwasong 15 was tested with a range estimated at 13,000 km, making it clear that North Korea was close to developing the capability to target the U.S. mainland.

Mr. Trump warned North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. North Korea responded by threatening to hit Guam “enveloping it in fire”. Mr. Trump announced that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded”. The UN Security Council met repeatedly, tightening economic sanctions on North Korea. Mr. Trump described Mr. Kim as a “rocket man on a suicide mission for himself and his regime” while North Korea vowed to “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire”. Russia and China appealed for restraint, proposing a “freeze for freeze”, calling on the U.S. to stop military exercises with South Korea in return for North Korea halting its nuclear and missile testing.

Beginnings of a thaw

The situation began to change with Mr. Kim’s New Year’s address indicating that North Korea had achieved its nuclear deterrent capability and offering a new opening in relations with South Korea as it prepared to host the Winter Olympics in February. Things moved rapidly thereafter. The two Korean teams marched together at the opening ceremony and the presence of Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, added a dash of bonhomie to the soft diplomacy.

Two senior South Korean officials visited Pyongyang in early March. Over a long dinner conversation, Mr. Kim indicated continued restraint on testing and willingness to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula if military threats to North Korea decreased and regime safety was guaranteed. The testing restraint was formally declared on April 21, a week before the summit between the two Korean leaders on April 27 in Panmunjom, which was acclaimed a success.

The U.S. was kept fully briefed by South Korean officials and in early March Mr. Trump indicated readiness to meet Mr. Kim, leading to heightened speculation about mismatched expectations all around. Even after two visits by Mike Pompeo (first as CIA chief and then as Secretary of State) and the release of three Americans sentenced for spying, there were hiccups when National Security Adviser John Bolton held up the “Libyan model” for North Korea’s disarmament and the U.S. launched air combat exercises together with South Korea. North Korea responded angrily. The summit was put off, followed by an exchange of conciliatory letters between the two leaders amid mounting suspense, and on June 1 the summit was reinstated.

There have been previous attempts by the U.S. to address concerns regarding North Korea’s nuclear programme. The first was the 1994 Agreed Framework after North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This was annulled by the Bush administration in 2002 with the ‘axis of evil’ speech. Consequently, North Korea withdrew from the NPT. The Six Party talks (second round) were initiated in 2004, resulting in a joint statement the following year reiterating commitment to denuclearisation, with a peace treaty and security guarantees to be concluded. The process collapsed when the U.S. imposed new sanctions, and in 2006 North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

Changed situation

Since then, the situation has changed. The old process is dead; North Korean capabilities have grown dramatically, increasing anxiety especially in South Korea and Japan and Chinese worries about U.S. deployment of missile defence in South Korea. There are challenges too. The U.S. would ideally like complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament as would Japan. North Korea seeks regime legitimacy and regime security together with sanctions relief while reducing its dependency on China. China would like to prolong the process to ensure its centrality. And South Korea would like to lower tensions while retaining the American presence. Reconciling these needs time and sustained dialogue.

The Joint Statement in Singapore is shy on detail but carries political promise. Instead of obsessing on the nuclear issue, it reflects clear recognition that a new beginning in U.S.-North Korea relations is possible only by replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty and that regime security guarantee for North Korea is a prerequisite for denuclearisation. Mr. Trump has accepted that the denuclearisation process will take time, but he wants to take it to a point that makes it irreversible. The affirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration (signed between the two Korean leaders in April) means that bilateral normalisation between the two Koreas will move apace and a meeting involving the U.S. and possibly China to conclude a peace treaty can happen by end-2018.

Mr. Trump’s unilateral announcements at the press conference are equally promising. He announced suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea and indicated that North Korea would dismantle a major missile engine testing site. There is no sanctions relief yet but given the changing psychological backdrop, it is likely that there may be a loosening by China and Russia.

Summit diplomacy has a mixed record. In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon travelled to China for the first summit with Chairman Mao Zedong leading to a realignment of political forces whose impact is still reverberating. In 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, coming close to agreement on abolition of all nuclear weapons till realpolitik eventually prevailed.

With Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, it is difficult to predict how the process will unfold but it is a new opening. One can almost visualise Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim telling each other as they said their goodbyes in Singapore: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Green ambitions — on renewable energy targets

In a surprising statement this month, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh said India would overshoot its target of installing 175 gigawatts of capacity from renewable energy sources by 2022. India was on track, he said, to hit 225 GW of renewable capacity by then. This is a tall claim, considering India has missed several interim milestones since it announced its 175 GW target in 2015. The misses happened despite renewable capacity being augmented at a blistering pace, highlighting how ambitious the initial target was. Technological and financial challenges remain: both wind and solar generation could be erratic, and India’s creaky electricity grid must be modernised to distribute such power efficiently. Meanwhile, wind and solar tariffs have hit such low levels that suppliers are working with wafer-thin margins. This means small shocks can knock these sectors off their growth trajectories. The obstacles have capped capacity addition to 69 GW till date, with India missing its 2016 and 2017 milestones. To hit its 2022 target of 175 GW, 106 GW will have to be added in four years, more than twice the capacity added in the last four.

In the solar sector alone, which the government is prioritising, policy uncertainties loom large. Manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) cells have demanded a 70% safeguard duty on Chinese PV imports, and the Directorate General of Trade Remedies will soon take a call on this. But any such duty will deal a body blow to solar-power suppliers, who rely heavily on Chinese hardware, threatening the growth of the sector. There is also the problem of the rooftop-solar segment. Of the current goal of 100 GW from solar energy by 2022, 40 GW is to come from rooftop installations, and 60 GW from large solar parks. Despite being the fastest-growing renewable-energy segment so far — rooftop solar clocked a compound annual growth rate of 117% between 2013 and 2017 — India only hit 3% of its goal by the end of 2017, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. The reason? Homeowners aren’t warming up to the idea of installing photovoltaic panels on their terraces because the economics does not work out for them. Compared to industries and commercial establishments, a home typically needs less power and will not use everything it generates. So, homeowners need to be able to sell electricity back to the grid, which in turn needs a nationwide “net-metering” policy. As of today, only a few States have such policies, discouraging users elsewhere. Such challenges can be overcome with the right incentives, but they will take time to kick in. The good news is that even if India hits the 175 GW target, it stands to meet its greenhouse-gas emission goal under the Paris climate agreement. This in itself will be a worthy achievement. Overshooting this target will be a plus, but until the government tackles the policy challenges, it must hold off on implausible claims.


1) Obliged

Meaning: Make (someone) legally or morally bound to do something.

Example: “Doctors are obliged by law to keep patients alive while there is a chance of recovery”

Synonyms: Require, Compel

2) Deployed

Meaning: Move (troops or equipment) into position for military action.

Example: “Forces were deployed at strategic locations”

Synonyms: Position, Station  

Antonyms: Concentrate

3) Totalitarian

Meaning: Relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.

Example: “A totalitarian regime”

Synonyms: Authoritarian, Fascistic  

Antonyms: Democratic, Liberal

4) Impoverished

Meaning: Exhaust the strength or vitality of.

Example: “The soil was impoverished by annual burning”

Synonyms: Weaken, Sap

Antonyms: Strengthen, Enrich

5) Empathy

Meaning: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

6) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: “He is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole”

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence  

7) Ramped up

Meaning: To increase activity or the level of something.

Example: The company announced plans to ramp up production to 10,000 units per month to meet demand.

8) Disputed

Meaning: Argue about (something).

Example: “The point has been much disputed”

Synonyms: Debate, Discuss

9) Miniaturising

Meaning: Make on a smaller or miniature scale.

Example: “Miniaturized nuclear warheads”

10) Inducted

Meaning: Admit (someone) formally to a post or organization.

Example: “Arrangements for inducting new members to an organization”

Synonyms: Admit to, Allow into

Antonyms: Bar from

11) Deranged

Meaning: Completely unable to think clearly or behave in a controlled way, especially because of mental illness.

Example: A deranged criminal/mind/personality to be mentally deranged.  

12) Dotard

Meaning: An old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.

13) Deterrent

Meaning: A thing that discourages or is intended to discourage someone from doing something.

Example: “Cameras are a major deterrent to crime”

Synonyms: Disincentive, Damper  

Antonyms: Incentive, Encouragement

14) Bonhomie

Meaning: Cheerful friendliness; geniality.

Example: “He exuded good humour and bonhomie”

Synonyms: Geniality, Conviviality  

Antonyms: Coldness

15) Speculation

Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

Example: “There has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit”

Synonyms: Conjecture, Supposition  

16) Sentenced

Meaning: Declare the punishment decided for (an offender).

Example: “Ten army officers were sentenced to life imprisonment”

Synonyms: Punish, Convict  

17) Hiccups

Meaning: A temporary or minor problem or setback.

Example: “Just a little hiccup in our usual wonderful service”

18) Disarmament

Meaning: The reduction or withdrawal of military forces and weapons.

Example: “The public wanted peace and disarmament”

Synonyms: Demobilisation, demobilization  

19) Combat

Meaning: Fighting between armed forces.

Example: “Five Hurricanes were shot down in combat”

Synonyms: Battle, Fighting  

20) Put off

Meaning: To delay or move an activity to a later time, or to stop or prevent someone from doing something.

Example: The meeting has been put off for a week.  

21) Conciliatory

Meaning: Intended or likely to placate or pacify.

Example: “A conciliatory approach”

Synonyms: Placatory, Pacific  

Antonyms: Antagonistic

22) Amid

Meaning: Surrounded by; in the middle of.

Example: “Our dream home, set amid magnificent rolling countryside”  

Synonyms: Among, Between

Antonyms: Surrounding

23) Mounting

Meaning: A backing, setting, or support for something.

Example: “He pulled the curtain rail from its mounting”

24) Reinstated

Meaning: Restore (someone or something) to their former position or state.

Example: “The union threatened strike action if Owen was not reinstated”

Synonyms: Restore, Reinstitute  

25) Reiterating

Meaning: Say something again or a number of times, typically for emphasis or clarity.

Example: “She reiterated that the government would remain steadfast in its support”

Synonyms: Repeat, Restate  

26) Legitimacy

Meaning: Conformity to the law or to rules.

Example: “Refusal to recognize the legitimacy of both governments”

27) Regime

Meaning: A government, especially an authoritarian one.

Example: “Ideological opponents of the regime”

Synonyms: Government, Rule  

28) Obsessing

Meaning: Preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually and to a troubling extent.

Example: “He was obsessed with the idea of revenge”

29) Prerequisite

Meaning: A thing that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist.

Example: “Sponsorship is not a prerequisite for any of our courses”

Synonyms: Precondition, Condition

Antonyms: Non-essential

30) Reverberating

Meaning: (Of a loud noise) be repeated several times as an echo.

Example: “Her deep booming laugh reverberated around the room”

Synonyms: Resound, Echo  

31) Realpolitik

Meaning: A system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.

Example: “Commercial realpolitik had won the day”

32) Prevailed

Meaning: Persuade (someone) to do something.

Example: “She was prevailed upon to give an account of her work”

Synonyms: Persuade, Induce  

33) Interim

Meaning: In or for the intervening period; provisional.

Example: “An interim arrangement”

Synonyms: Provisional, Temporary

Antonyms: Permanent

34) Blistering

Meaning: (Of criticism) expressed with great vehemence.

Example: “A blistering attack on the government’s transport policy”

Synonyms: Savage, Vicious  

Antonyms: Mild

35) Erratic

Meaning: Not even or regular in pattern or movement; unpredictable.

Example: “Her breathing was erratic”

Synonyms: Unpredictable, Variable  

Antonyms: Predictable, Consistent

36) Creaky

Meaning: Making or liable to make a creaking sound when being moved or when pressure is applied.

Example: “I climbed the creaky stairs”

37) Loom

Meaning: Appear as a vague form, especially one that is large or threatening.

Example: “Vehicles loomed out of the darkness”

Synonyms: Emerge, Appear  

38) Incentives

Meaning: A thing that motivates or encourages someone to do something.

Example: “Give farmers an incentive to improve their land”

Synonyms: Inducement, Motivation

Antonyms: Deterrent, Disincentive

39) Kick in

Meaning: Come into effect or operation.

Example: “The hospital’s emergency generators kicked in”

40) Tackles

Meaning: Make determined efforts to deal with (a problem or difficult task).

Example: “Police have launched an initiative to tackle rising crime”

Synonyms: Approach, Address

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