Win-win for mighty Kim
Kim Jong-un, indeed, had a great summit. And, he did not even need to give anything away. He could not have scripted his Singapore sojourn any better himself. 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. 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 had already made, extracted no new or concrete concessions to demonstrate Pyongyang was committed to denuclearisation and, further, spoke of "security assurances" the dictator had long sought from the United States. North Korea had declared, earlier this year, that since the country had satisfactorily achieved all it wanted with regard to its nuclear programme, it would suspend its tests. Since then, it has closed down two test sites. What about the others? Trump announced that Kim had informed him that he would be shutting down a third one that tested missile engines. But, the real drama unfolded 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. 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. There were few expectations that Trump would confront Kim on the many issues North Korea faces, like its appalling human rights record, the North Koreans who slave in labour camps, the kidnapped foreign nationals from South Korea and Japan, and beyond, its arsenal of medium and short-range missiles. Those have been high on the list of priorities for North Korea's neighbours including Japan and South Korea. Through North Korean state media, Kim sought the legitimacy that a summit might confer. It would only be more priceless for him if President Trump was coming to North Korea. That, by the way, was a possibility that Trump told reporters he would consider. He also said he would "absolutely" invite Kim Jong-un to the White House. On the North Korean labourers, Trump said: "I think I've helped them," adding, "Not much I can do right now, but at some point, I think they are one of the great winners today." Tuesday's communiqué said that North Korea "commits to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula." In contrast, the agreement signed in 2005 between North Korea and the US, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, committed Pyongyang "to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards." The North Koreans have given no indication that they are seeking to abide by the international conventions or admit independent experts to verify the extent of their nuclear programme. The North Koreans have given nothing so far; while the Americans, on the other hand, have given Kim Jong-un a summit and much more with the US President. Whatever happens from now, Pyongyang comes out of this looking like it's scored a great victory. It's an instructive and compelling lesson on how weak states can achieve asymmetrical outcomes if they are prepared to stand tough against materially stronger powers. The White House said that it had largely agreed to North Korea's demand for parity in all aspects of the summit. The North Koreans have spent decades negotiating with the West along with studying the Trump White House and were well-prepared for this meeting. To see President Trump and Kim Jong-un shaking hands warmly and chatting so easily was both stunning and chilling to many. It is a powerful moment that augers a change in the tense relationship between these two countries. But, it also legitimises the path Kim took to get here – building and testing illicit nuclear weapons that have the potential to wreak unimaginable destruction. For Kim Jong-un, this momentous day was one for North Korea's history books.