Kim Jong Un couldn’t have scripted his Singapore sojourn any better himself. As he toured the streets on a night-time walkabout and posed for selfies with the Singaporean foreign minister, he was treated more like a rock star than a pariah autocrat.
He may be the leader of a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, but Kim was granted a friendly audience with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had forked out $15 million to keep him accommodated in a luxury hotel and protected by dozens of security officers.
As his motorcade swept through the streets, excited Singaporeans even held up smartphones to capture the moment on social media.
But the real reward was five hours with US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, when the two leaders signed a document that essentially reiterated promises North Korea has already made, extracted no new or concrete concessions to demonstrate Pyongyang was committed to denuclearization, and further, spoke of “security assurances” the dictator had long sought from the United States.
“The only thing that Kim has done is suspend testing of weapons, that’s not giving them away,” said Bruce Bechtol, a professor of political science at Angelo State University who has authored several books on North Korea.
There was certainly nothing in the vague final statement that might result in potential blowback from his cadre of loyalists watching his every move from Pyongyang.
North Korea had declared earlier this year that since the country had satisfactorily achieved all it wanted with regard to its nuclear program, it would suspend its tests. Since then, it has closed down two test sites. Trump announced on Tuesday that Kim had informed him that he would be shutting down a third, one that tested missile engines.
Stunning press conference
But perhaps the most stunning moment of the summit came after Kim had left the summit venue. In a freewheeling press conference lasting more than an hour, Trump was pressed by reporters to elaborate on the security guarantees he could provide to North Korea. In response, Trump pointed to the presence of nearly 30,000 US troops in South Korea, something that has long irked not only North Korea, but also its biggest backer: China.
“I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home,” Trump said.
While the US President qualified that a troop withdrawal was “not part of the equation right now,” he made it clear that it could be, in the future.
And to the apparent surprise of South Korea, Trump promised to halt what he called “the war games” — joint military exercises with South Korea — that North Korea has long regarded as a provocation. They were expensive, inappropriate — and “provocative,” he said.
To Korea-watchers, the commitment to suspend these regular training drills would raise questions about the continued presence of US forces in the region.
“If we have a force of 28,500 military personnel that does not conduct training, then we may as well bring them home and this is what I fear from President Trump’s comments that war games cost a lot of money and South Korea does not pay sufficient funds,” said David Maxwell, a retired US Army Special Forces colonel and a fellow at the Institute of Korean American Studies. “A force that does not train is of no value to deterrence and no value to war fighting and does a disservice to those military personnel and our national security.”