26 June 2018

Is the Trump – Kim Jong-un meeting the beginning of peaceful relations?

Sergiu Medar

The historical meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un can be considered as having a rather symbolic value, than one with practical consequences. During the last four months, Kim Jong-un stated on multiple occasions his willingness to denuclearize the country. Now, with the entire world watching, he has even signed a document in a bilateral meeting with Donald Trump, in which he commits himself to North Korea’s denuclearization. But the peace-building process in the Korean Peninsula is a lengthy process which needs to be supported and encouraged.

Image source: HEPTA

[ Romanian Version HERE ]


The Singapore summit of June 12, 2018 between Donald Trump, the President of the US and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, was coined by many journalists as “the meeting of the century”. It was named like this, first of all, because it was the first live meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea since July 27, 1953, the day the armistice which ended the war opposing the US and forces of the United Nations to North Korea, the latter receiving military support from the Soviet Union and communist China, was signed.

This meeting marks a new means of approach to North Korea’s relations with the US and the rest of the world, but also of the US towards the communist country. The first signs of these new relations have been seen before with North Korea’s participation at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea and the high level representation in the North Korean delegation. This symbolic contact was followed by intense high level diplomatic contacts, first by proxy and later directly, between the US and North Korea. Two meetings between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping, China’s President, also took place, the first between March 25-28 in Beijing, and the second on May 7-8 in Dalian. During these meetings, Kim Jong-un expressed for the first time, maybe too easily, his willingness to denuclearize North Korea. He continued to claim this throughout the meetings with the presidents of China and South Korea, and also during meetings with Trump Administration officials.

On June 12, 2018, on the small Sentosa Island in Singapore, the truly historical meeting between the US President and the North Korean leader took place. On this occasion, a joint statement was signed by the two leaders. Analyzing the joint statement we can note the following aspects:

- The title of President of North Korea is not mentioned within the document. On the joint statement the Korean leader’s title is that of Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. After the death of Kim Il-sung, the country’s spiritual leader and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, it was decided that no one can ever hold again the office of president or head of state. Thus, the Korean leader used this title;

- “President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un had an encompassing, profound and sincere exchange of views on the subjects referring to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” reads the final the statement. The sincerity of the dialogue on part of the North Korean leader can be questioned based on the fact that, in accordance with those mentioned by Trump in the press conference following the signing of the joint statement, the United States have spent a couple of billion dollars for North Korea’s nuclear disarmament without any results being accomplished. The discrepancy between body language signals given by Kim Jong-un and what he said throughout the meeting makes us have doubts about this honesty that the US President believes in.

- “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. The question to ask now is: what do security guarantees mean? Are they referring to the country or to the North Korean leader, to the North Korean regime? Are security guarantees being offered to a communist dictatorship? A “complete denuclearization” is being mentioned. Is this also verifiable and irreversible? Are production facilities part of this denuclearization or just nuclear armament deposits and testing facilities?

- “Mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. Trump has made the first step in this regard. Although he had been counseled not to meet with Kim by many of his advisors and members of the US Congress, he followed the counsel of Mike Pompeo and backtracked on the decision of cancelling the meeting. The bilateral summit of June 12 took place according to its initial schedule;

- The Final Statement highlighted the fact that the two states will “act towards recovering corpses of prisoners of war and of those missing in action and towards the immediate repatriation of those identified”. In the press conference following the meeting, Donald Trump scored a PR coup by highlighting the fact that he introduced this paragraph as a result of requests received by the White House from relatives of American heroes who never returned home from the Korean War.

During the extended press conference he held immediately after the end of the meeting, Donald Trump said that he considers Kim Jong-un as an “honest, direct and efficient” person. It’s probably a judgment based solely on a momentary reaction, fueled by the two leaders’ wishes to be remembered by history also in this way. Until now, Kim Jong-un did not offer any proof, internationally, of his honesty. As for “direct”, the fact that Asians, through their culture, are not direct people is well-known, and their messages are shrouded in symbols and metaphors. How direct can the North Korean leader be if he declined to take part in the press conference?

Regarding the security guarantees, as they are mentioned in the Final Statement, Donald Trump asserted that the US will probably end military drills carried out with South Korea, because of their high costs. For the same reason it’s possible to see a withdrawal of the 32,000 American soldiers stationed in South Korea. This promise was made without prior consulting of their strategic ally, South Korea. Immediately after the American leader’s statement, Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, expressed his dissatisfaction towards the claim. He also highlighted the fact that promises have been made for the unverifiable (at least for now) denuclearization of the entire peninsula, an aspect which makes South Korea look vulnerable.

The US president highlighted the fact that sanctions imposed upon North Korea will continue to be applied until the complete fulfillment of promises made by the North Korean leader. Furthermore, the US Congress act “The North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act”, in its 401 and 402 sections, states the precise steps that North Korea must take for the sanctions to be suspended or eliminated. The most important step is the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Despite all of this, recently, Trump refused to apply a set of 300 new sanctions on North Korea, claiming that such an attitude would be proof of a “lack of respect” towards Kim Jong-un.

Regarding aspects related to human rights, Trump showed that this subject would be discussed at a later date. The lack of discussions on this important subject at this point in the talks will generate a negative reaction in the US. It’s probable that, for the sake of the negotiations’ good course, it was considered that their main objective was that of obtaining a promise related to denuclearization of the peninsula and, in this stage, talks on uncomfortable subjects would not have been effective.

President Trump laid down his signature next to that of a dictator. Through this action he highlights his pragmatism once again, sacrificing a principle, to protect the American people from a nuclear attack against US territory, which would lead to the loss of millions of human lives. Trump accepted this meeting to also boost his image internally, taking into account the fact that, soon, elections will take place in the US for a third of US Congress seats, with republicans not being positioned particularly well in the polls. The republicans are therefore positioning themselves as saviors of the American people with regards to North Korea relations. At the same time, the meeting, like the signed statement, will be used by democrats against Trump.

The problem of applying the UN Charter regarding human rights was only tangentially addressed. In his press conference, Trump praised the fact that, in months preceding the summit, the communist regime liberated a couple of arrested American citizens. But the fact that the signed statement does not refer to this subject of extreme importance is essential.

There have been no discussions about an eventual democratization process of North Korea. North Korea has been referred to as a state which strives for its own people’s prosperity. Will this prosperity come with the support of the US? Probably yes! For a dictatorial communist regime?

There have been no discussions about the unification of the two states in the peninsula. Neither these states, nor the world powers have any interest in this. For the moment, in the short and medium terms, such a subject cannot even be called into question.

Another aspect which needs to be examined is the internal reaction of North Korea’s population. It’s not likely for the North Korean population or some of its military leaders to have any kind of violent reaction. Kim Jong-un has an efficient oppression system in place which, at least for a short period of time, will manage to secure the peace. The greatest shock, though, will be that regarding to the mentality of the population which has been convincingly educated since birth that the US, primarily, and Japan are their main enemies. Now they’re seeing their “beloved leader” shaking hands with the “great enemy”. How hard will this be to take in and how much time will it take remains to be seen.

Regarding the reaction of military elites stuck in the communist mentality and dogma, Kim Jong-un was careful to remove them from office and render them harmless a short while before the beginning of the summit.

We cannot rule out in a fresh analysis of the meeting aspects related to symbolism. What needs to be observed from the beginning of the visit is that the North Korean leader arrived in Singapore on board an “Air China” airplane, with the latter being a Chinese state company. This aspect shows the fact that Kim Jong-un’s actions and the summit had China’s political support.

The body language of the two main characters highlight the positioning of the two leaders against each other, with an approximately 60% probability of truth.

In the next picture we can see the two leaders shake hands. Trump offers an open palm signifying sincerity and, later, does his well-known vigorous handshake, while Kim tries with difficulty to cope with it.

Touching the arm during the handshake represents an act of superiority which is felt subliminally by the partner throughout the negotiations.

Patting the back during movement, our when entering a room, signifies superiority. Balancing the situation is made by the partner immediately patting back in the same way, which did not happen.

According to diplomatic protocol, the more powerful member in a meeting enters a room last and always pats the other on the back. According to released images, Trump always entered rooms last during the meeting.

According to assertions supported by kinesics specialists, these manifestations of superiority, made before or during the talks, are induced to participants at negotiation so as to influence the final result. What appears to be the most important conclusion of this analysis of body language is that the judgement of North Korea’s leader being honest is at least frivolous.

To conclude, we can appreciate the fact that the two leaders, who just a couple of months ago were insulting one another, met and held talks. Herein stands the great value of this summit and it prevails over the debatable document that was signed.

An assessment of who is the winner of this meeting seems to be inappropriate. Peace has won. It would be absurd to expect that all problems related to North Korea be solved in this first meeting. A long and difficult process will follow, which the entire world would wish to be irreversible, no matter how slowly it unfolds.

Each of the two leaders adressed each other invitations for state visits, in North Korea and the US respectively. They made mutual promises that they would undertake these visits.

Until then, though, comes a possible meeting between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin. How will this meeting influence North Korea’s political course will be analyzed when the time comes.