What happened when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un finally met in Singapore?

What happened when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un finally met in Singapore?

A wrap-up of the historic summit that took place between the leaders of the United States and North Korea


Kim and Trump
Photo: Xinhua

It was the greatest show on Earth - at least for today, and according to its main protagonists, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The world was agape that a once inconceivable tete-a-tete could come in the wake of threats of thermonuclear war and scathing personal insults.

But the handshake that started the summit was a sign that things had changed.

But what substance actually emerged beyond the spectacle? And what other moments were seared into this segment of 21st century history?

Here’s a look at what happened on Singapore’s Sentosa Island on Tuesday:

The substance

  • After their aides joined for the working session following the first Trump-Kim one-on-one, Trump signalled that things had gone “better than anybody could have expected” and something would be signed soon. That something turned out be a document which was the first concrete development in what had been a substance-free day until then.
  • The contents of the document surfaced in advance of Trump’s news conference before he departed for home. It was thin on detail: Trump promising “security guarantees” to Pyongyang and Kim recommitting to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.
  • What was new in that news conference: Trump said Washington would stop war games with Seoul. That’s of huge significance - the military drills infuriate Pyongyang who see them as rehearsals to topple the Kim dynasty. Trump said he ultimately wants to bring US soldiers home from South Korea. There are nearly 30,000 stationed there. Trump also said Kim agreed to destroy a “major” missile testing site, but offered no specifics.
  • Trump said the denuclearisation process would be starting “very quickly”; the two developed “a very special bond”; and he “absolutely” would invite Kim to the White House. Kim ignored reporters’ shouted questions whether he would make that momentous journey, but Trump later said Kim had accepted the invitation.
  • Kim declared the “world will see a major change” and he and Trump “decided to leave the past behind”.
  • Trump and Kim shook hands and exchanged farewells without interpreters as the summit ended.

Read the full details of the leaders' joint statement here

Bye for now?

  • So what happens next? Will Trump and Kim meet again - when, where and will it then be less of an event, not if it’s in Washington or Pyongyang - or will denuclearisation prove to be too big a hurdle to circumvent? A three-way declaration also including South Korea on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War might be the next most plausible and high-profile development. China would need to be present as well.

The handshake

  • Earlier at the day’s start, the choreographers and protocol teams did their work: both men emerged pretty much on cue, having left their respective hotels within minutes of each other, at the scheduled time of 9am from opposite porticos at the Capella Singapore hotel to engage in a first handshake timed at 13 seconds. It wasn’t on the battling alpha male Richter scale that characterised Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron’s first greeting, but it was hearty. Trump put his hand out first, Kim following his lead. Trump grasped Kim’s right arm, and then, later, took ahold of Kim’s left arm as they turned to face photographers whose cameras were producing a cacophony of shutter-clicking as the soundtrack.

The initial chat, positive spin, and flags

  • “Very, very good”; “excellent relationship”; “We will solve a big problem”. So pronounced Trump in real-time positive spin. Kim rode the wave of optimism himself, adding, it “was not easy to get here” and that there “were obstacles but we overcame them to be here”. Kim, via his interpreter, captured the parallel universe which now served as geopolitical reality: “Many people in the world will think of this as a scene from a ... science fiction movie.”
  • Towering behind the two leaders’ grip and grin were a striking series of American and North Korean flags side by side on an equal footing, almost interlocked. It was a stunning piece of imagery for Korea watchers across the peninsula given the 70 years of North Korean iconography in which the US standard was the flag of the devil.

Dude, check out my ride

  •  In a bizarre moment, Trump showed Kim the interior of his presidential limousine, “The Beast”, as they strolled on the grounds after lunch. Kim was definitely smiling as he curiously peered in.


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