Watching the cordial yet serious – friendly yet professional interaction between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, one could be forgiven for neglecting to remember that less than two years ago, both leaders were hurling insults at each other whilst threatening nuclear war.
That all changed last year when the two Korean states began engaging in a peace process that lead to the first ever meeting between a sitting US President and DPRK leader. Last year’s Singapore Summit has been followed up by this week’s summit in Hanoi. Whilst the US and DPRK did not sign any concrete agreements, Donald Trump stated that he’d prefer a good deal over a fast one. This in and of itself shows a level of balance and maturity that the US President’s critics often claim he is incapable of.
In respect of Kim Jong-un, it is clear that the DPRK Chairman is growing ever more comfortable with major international summits in which reporters form around the world shout questions at the dignitaries involved. Unlike last year, Kim directly answered several questions from international journalists and did so with poise, honesty and good humour. This itself represents something that has never occurred in respect of any DPRK leader and as such is a further indication of the DPRK’s desire to reform and open up its society to new international partnerships.
At one point, Trump even told the reporters not to shout questions at Kim because “this isn’t like dealing with Trump” – e.g., not dealing with someone used to shouting back at the press. This exchange alone showed that both Kim and Trump have become supremely comfortable around each other and that the good relationship that Trump has frequently spoken of in respect of the DPRK leader, has well and truly blossomed.
Of course, whilst the two sides continue to affirm their principled position in favour of de-nuclearisation in exchange for a lifting of sanctions, the timing and details of this process continues to be a point of disagreement but in Trump’s own words, it is a friendly and ultimately manageable temporary disagreement. The main issue is that the DPRK would like to see sanctions relaxed as soon as possible, whilst the US wants to see more work done in respect of de-nuclearisation prior to any relaxing of sanctions. In this area, China, Russia and even South Korea are actually much closer to the DPRK position. Also, the US and the DPRK still cannot fully agree as to a final definition of de-nuclearisation but as Donald Trump stated at his subsequent press conference, this will be resolved in due course.
Trump is in fact correct to seek an agreement built upon trust and sustainability, as opposed to simply rushing through an agreement that may be materially impracticable. Because of this, the sophomore meeting between Kim and Trump has in fact made progress, not least because in principle, each side agreed on the benefits of having an official national liaison office (in effect, a mini-embassy) in one another’s country This itself could help to further promote dialogue whilst it would also clearly be symptomatic of just how much tensions have de-escalated since 2017.
Not every meeting in any professional let alone political context needs to produce a specific document in order to be called a success. The fact of the matter is that both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump are developing an important relationship that is pushing at least one part of the world, much closer to peace and consequently towards sustained win-win prosperity.
Taken in totality, the positive nature of the Hanoi Summit will surely pave the way for future progress between the DPRK and multiple future partners. Because of this, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have every reason to feel that their meeting was a continued step in a deeply positive direction.