Trump-Kim Summit Opinion: A political reality show played out on the world stage

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore.

Just less than a year ago, Trump (right) and Kim were still engaged in a war of words on Twitter.
The Straits Times

Watching from Singapore, it’s easy to get swept up in the hype of the Trump-Kim summit which took place on Tuesday (June 12), while forgetting what is really important about a meeting between the United States and North Korea.

The lead-up has been nothing short of exciting as roads were closed and the international media lavishly taken care of at a make-shift but state-of-the-art International Media Centre strategically situated against the picturesque backdrop of Singapore’s financial hub.

Even the Singapore Flyer stayed lit into the night for the event – there was electricity in the air and Donald Trump certainly felt it when he tweeted about the “excitement” upon his arrival.

But the actual proceedings felt like one was watching a reality programme being played out on the world stage; and like “The Apprentice” which Trump incidentally starred in, the main event was full of dramatics, twists and turns, and unscripted moments that kept all of us glued just because we wanted to see what was going to happen next.

After all, in the months leading up to this meeting, the relationship between the US and North Korea was played out very publicly on the world’s media stage.

Less than a year ago, Trump and Kim Jong Un were still engaged in a war of words on Twitter – trading insults, taunting each other about the size of their respective nuclear button, and calling each other names like “Dotard” and “Little Rocket Man”.

Even up to a fortnight ago, no one knew exactly the fate of the summit. But in record time, Singapore rolled out the red carpet and stage (to the tune of S$20 million) for the two leaders.

Adding to the drama was a surreal and seemingly unscheduled late night visit to several local landmarks where he was given a reception usually only reserved for a K-Pop star. The moment has since been cemented in history with his first ever selfie taken with two Singapore minsters.

However, the devil is in the details.

Agreements that are truly historic and that will have a long lasting impact take many months to negotiate. Definitions must be agreed upon and timelines must be set. And once these have been agreed on, the documents must be ratified by the governments in their home countries for it to have true legitimacy.

The Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore has raised so much expectations and with so much attention given to the form of the event, the danger is that all good and positive media coverage will collapse into dust if nothing is followed through because of un-met expectations that overshadow an agreement that is thin on its details.

For a lasting safety and security of the region, the US is not the only party that has a stake in it – other major powers in the region such as China, Japan and South Korea must also be brought into the discussion.

Unfortunately, these countries were significantly absent in the summit and only sent positive comments after the photo-op between Trump and Kim.

Therefore, if you measure the idea of ‘historic’ in terms of two long enemies coming together for four hours to exchange pleasantries, then indeed it is.

But how much can this PR exercise actually move the needle?