The morning after this week’s historic meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un The New Yorker headlined, “The Singapore Summit: Reality TV or a New Era?”
Overall, the political and media reaction has been an understandable mixture of hope and scepticism. After years of failed attempts and periods of great expectations and commitments, soon thwarted by non-delivery and the failure of traditional diplomacy, Trump’s “unconventional” approach (to just about everything) has given hope to some.
For example, our PM Turnbull said Mr Trump deserved credit for giving denuclearisation a "red-hot go".
"It’s a very personal approach. It’s not one that’s been undertaken before. But you know what? The other approaches haven’t worked. So he’s taking his approach. He’s taking the approach of Donald Trump the dealmaker to this and we welcome it, but we welcome it with caution, as he did. Donald Trump himself said it may not work."
But, others have been less enthusiastic and sycophantic. They note that Trump also added that if it didn’t work, “I’ll find some kind of an excuse”.
They fear the meeting was an end in itself for Trump – just a moment in reality TV. They are concerned about the vagueness of the four agreed points – no definition, no timetable, no detail.
They are concerned about Trump’s shift in language about Kim Jong-un. He now, so easily, “trusts him”, having previously threatened to “destroy” him.
Some recall GW Bush’s initial assessment of Putin – “I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy – I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
They are concerned how easily the “great negotiator” gave Kim recognition, equal status, and ground.
The atmospherics of six flags each and the body language and, most importantly, the “unnecessary” concessions, such as to end joint military exercises with South Korea, even referring to the possible removal of American troops – for virtually nothing in return!
Trump’s media has been pushing him as the “strong man” who created and drove the meeting, the reverse of the coverage in the North Korean media.
Kim’s whole nuclear armament strategy has been to demonstrate capability, to gain global recognition, to get an effective seat at the table. It has worked, hasn’t it, and even better than he might have hoped?
I suggest it is most revealing that Kim Jong-un met with South Korea, and most importantly twice with China, in the days leading up to his meeting with Trump.
There is no doubt that China has been the “big winner”, so far. It has wanted those military exercises to end for years. Its long-term objective is to get the US out of the Korean peninsula all together, and hopefully reduce its presence and significance in Asia, as an essential element of its own expansion objectives in the region.
Just how much is China pulling Kim Jong-un’s strings?
What does “denuclearisation” mean? If a commitment is real, bet it won’t be just one sided. How far down that path would the US and others also have to go to get any real concessions from North Korea, against what has been the very essence of its declared strategy?
Tune in for the next episode! But, recognise, it could run for more seasons than the Simpsons, or episodes of “Days of our Lives”.