President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jung-un sat face to face in an epochal summit on June 12, 2018, on Sentosa Island in Singapore. The two men showed obvious rapport as they talked, signed a joint statement, and even partook in some jovial unscripted moments between meetings.
Though they got along, the summit was not the end-all moment that Trump and his administration had wished for. However, it may not the statement which Trump signed , but the relationship he cultivated with Kim Jung-un that may lead to further progress on the peninsula.
The Joint Statement
The most tangible outcome of the Trump-Kim summit was the Joint Statement signed by the two leaders. Though Trump lauded the outcome of the summit, the wording and commitments outlined in the joint statement simply do not advance the denuclearization of North Korea.
The Joint Statement consisted of a few major points. Trump agreed to provide security guarantees while Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” (Joint Statement). The statement also laid out four main commitments as well, including reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration, establishment of relations between America and North Korea, continuing efforts to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the repatriation of American remains from the Korean War. Trump and Kim closed by agreeing to continuing diplomatic reaches in attempting to solve the nuclear issue (Joint Statement).
Trump, following the summit, has been a staunch defender of the statement. After returning stateside, Trump tweeted that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea (Twitter). Even a week after signing the statement, Trump continued to praise it, insisting that the media was downplaying the positive aspects of the agreement because he signed it (Twitter; USA Today). The president has constantly pointed to the provision calling for the repatriation of American remains from the Korean War as an example of the “major concessions” he gained from North Korea at the summit.
While Trump’s laudatory remarks are not necessarily out of the ordinary for a president who is defending his most important foreign policy venture of his tenure, the statement itself has drawn much criticism from the expert community. Jenny Town, managing editor of 38North, said the statement had even less detail than previous agreements between North Korea and the United States. Scott Snyder, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the statement, and the summit itself, did nothing to address the missile development, biological and chemical weapons, as well as the human rights situation in North Korea (PBS). Andrei Lankov said the agreement had zero practical value and that “North Korea will feel emboldened while the United States got nothing” (Financial Times). Finally, Stephen Haggard argued that the statement will be detrimental to American short- and long-term interests in the region, writing “we are no farther along after the summit than we were before it,” in reference to lacking detail about the future in the statement (NKNews).
The biggest failure of the statement is the lack of concrete measures and steps for moving forward on the denuclearization of North Korea. Heading into Singapore, Trump drew a tough line on ensuring the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) of North Korea at the summit. The statement, however, makes no reference to CVID. Trump and Kim also agreed to promote peace and continue diplomacy, but left the details out here as well. As Benjamin Habib wrote in The Conversation, “the omission of CVID from the joint statement is confirmation that North Korea under Kim Jung-un is never going to willingly denuclearize,” and the statement is most revealing in its omissions (The Conversation).
While it is easy to lambast the statement for lacking key structural support for the continued push to denuclearize North Korea, the statement represents a key historical victory. It showcases the ability of Pyongyang and Washington to hear and negotiate on critical security concerns and even reach an agreement on those issues. Also, the statement has ushered in a calm over the peninsula as North Korea has entered a long moratorium of missile and nuclear testing–though no testing does not mean they haven’t been working and advancing their nuclear program in other ways. Though vague and lacking, the statement will provide an essential grounding for future negotiations with North Korea moving forward.
Frenemies: Kim & Trump’s Relationship
(Image: Trump and Kim as they walk over to check out “The Beast.” Source: AP News)
Another key aspect of the summit was the ability for Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump to build rapport with each other. Either the summit would be confrontational and the world would slip right back into a fear of possible war or the two leaders would be able to cultivate a decent relationship which could pave the way for future negotiations. Thankfully, the latter occurred.
Trump and Kim shared some very interesting, unscripted moments together in front of the cameras. The two leaders shared smiles throughout the event, and both walked a slightly confident swagger following the closed door meeting (TIME). Possibly the most intriguing moment occurred when Trump showed off “The Beast”–the presidential limo–to the North Korean leader (Fox News). The two appeared friendly during the summit, and that likely will assist in continuing negotiations in the future; it is easier to negotiate with someone if you find something in common, even if they are your enemy.
Trump even had some very kind words to say about Kim following their closed sessions during the summit. The President described the relationship between them as a very special bond. At one point, Trump even attempted humor, joking about getting a perfect picture in which the leaders look thin (NY Times). Trump’s words, body language, and even overall demeanor during these unscripted moments offered the possibility to gauge the summit. They confirmed that the two leaders got along and were able to discuss key issues in a mild manner under tense pressure.
It has been two weeks since the summit and already we have seen some advancement on both sides of the 38th parallel. President Trump has made good on his security promise by pulling the plug on the joint military drills (Yonhap). North Korea has started to remove its anti-American propaganda from shops and other locations across the country (NKNews).
Both President Trump and Kim Jung-un won something in this summit. Trump’s biggest takeaway was political. He can present the summit as successful use of diplomacy during his first term. Trump also got Kim to cease missile and nuclear testing for an elongated period of time in 2018–North Korea has yet to test a missile or nuke as it attempts diplomatic outreach to many nations. Kim won political legitimacy. Moreover, he gained legitimacy as a nuclear weapons state. Though his most important goal, the rest of the world will not confer the same legitimacy on Kim, and most likely will refuse to acknowledge his new found legitimacy if Pyongyang refuses to act as a responsible power in the world. The outcomes of the summit are tricky to parse, as diplomacy is complex.
Assigning a winner and loser of the summit is a paltry practice. Kim Jung-un won the legitimacy he pursued for years; even if the summit had no tangible outcomes, Kim still would have gained such legitimacy. He also gained, in writing, security guarantees from a sitting U.S. president. Trump gained a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests which backed the peninsula away from the brink of war. Trump’s biggest loss is legitimizing North Korea while not pushing for concrete steps toward denuclearization. Legitimizing Kim’s nuclear weapons also presents a challenge for Kim: he must now act as a responsible nuclear power to continue to posses and grow his legitimacy.
Future negotiations with North Korea surrounding the nuclear issue will shift as Kim will see himself as a bona-fide nuclear power, threatening enough for the United States president to meet with him, This is not to say that future talks will be for naught. As with this summit, major talks tend to correspond with lulls in testing, and provide some short-term room for progress to be made. Now, all we have to do is tactically use the opening created by the summit and push for concrete progress.
 The “Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jung-un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit” will be referenced as the “Joint Statement” in this post for brevity.
 For a copy of the Panmunjom Declaration, see “Full text of Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula” in The Straights Times.