The city-state of Singapore, a mercantile nation that has maintained robust ties with both sides throughout the years, hosted the two leaders at the luxurious Capella Hotel on Sentosa island.
Singapore spent close to $15m to cover the North Korean leader’s accommodation, logistics of the meetings, as well as overall security for the two world leaders. International sanctions made it difficult for Kim to cover his overseas accommodation.
China, a close ally of North Korea, provided transportation logistics by offering an Air China plane, a retrofitted Boeing (747-4J6), for the 3,000-mile trip from Pyongyang to Singapore.
Kim’s official carrier, a four-decades-old Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-62 dubbed “Air Force Un”, was deemed unfit for the voyage.
Thousands of journalists flocked to Singapore to cover the historic summit.
But despite all these grand preparations and despite all the big expectations, the outcome of the summit proved largely disappointing. The US-North Korea joint declaration was a broadly generic document, containing no tangible compromise between the two sides.
In the end, what this summit achieved was have the US president indirectly legitimise a notorious dictator.
Much ado about nothing
Both men were desperate for this meeting, Trump perhaps even more so. The US president wanted to score his first major foreign policy achievement. His tenure in office, so far, has been marked by growing tensions with neighbours and allies as well as a massive collapse in US global influence.
He recently faced a barrage of criticisms over his trade policy, including the imposition of punitive tariffs on the US’ top trading partners, proposal for readmission of Russia to the G7, the abrupt withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal earlier this year and reneging on the Paris Agreement on climate change last year.
The North Korean leader, however, provided Trump a chance for diplomatic redemption, no matter how fleeting. Visibly pleased with his highly anticipated summit in Singapore, Trump reassuringly told Kim that they would have “a tremendous relationship.” The less enthused North Korean leader simply replied, “We’re here [gladly], overcoming everything” to make this meeting happen.
In their joint declaration, Trump and Kim vowed to continue building “a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”. More specifically, the US “committed to provide security guarantees” to Pyongyang, while the latter “reaffirmed [its] firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
Yet, there was no mention of Washington’s key demands, namely the Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Disarmament (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure. Trump also provided no clear idea of the kind of “security guarantees” the US is willing to offer Pyongyang.
The two leaders simply underscored their “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula“. To Trump, perhaps the instantaneous media mileage generated by the event was more important than negotiating a truly consequential deal, which, according to leading experts, may take more than a decade to complete.
Thus, it’s hard to see the outcome of the summit as anything but a series of “motherhood statements” with little substance.
The two leaders will likely have to conduct reciprocal visits to each other’s capitals over the coming years before working out a final deal. The White House has indicated the possibility of multiple meetings between Trump and Kim, while diplomats and defence officials painfully hatch out the devil in the details of a final agreement.
A victory for Kim Jong-un
While there was little substance in the summit declaration, Kim came out as the winner of this set of talks. He basked in global stardom and managed to enhance his regime’s legitimacy by engaging in high-stakes diplomacy with the support of all major powers. Thus the summit undoubtedly helped the Korean regime partially lift the veil of its profound international isolation.
Now, all key players, from China to South Korea, Singapore and the US, have a direct stake in ensuring that the peace negotiations move forward and as smoothly as possible. As a reward for the summit, Trump is expected to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea and contemplate the prospect of drawing down US military presence in the Korean Peninsula.
The announcement has provoked displeasure in Seoul, but it is music to the ears of the North Korean regime, which has managed to secure concessions from the US without necessarily agreeing to a clear denuclearisation plan. The summit was, in many ways, war by other means.
With Trump constantly heaping praise on the North Korean leader and dangling the prospect of full normalisation of bilateral ties, the reclusive regime is gradually and stealthily dispensing with its “axis of evil” pariah status. There is even talk of a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump and Kim.
As a result, the regime change agenda is definitively off the table for now. This could, over time, also weaken international resolve and the willingness of many nations, particularly outside the West, to implement international sanctions against North Korea.
Thus, the summit was a big win for Kim, giving him a deep measure of strategic respite. Over the coming months, the North Korean regime will explore its next move in chess-like, technical, and potentially drawn-out negotiations towards a final and enduring agreement.
At stake is not only Kim’s regime survival, but also the welfare of his people who are desperate for greater economic engagement with the world.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.