Eight signals that gave away the true story
Were the optics of the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un more important than the words and the agreements? Here are eight details that tell us about the leaders’ true mindsets.
President Donald Trump predicted that he would know whether Kim Jong-un was serious about negotiating a deal “within the first minute” of the pair’s historic meeting. Here is how it went:
1/ The handshake: It lasted 13 seconds. The president projected his usual dominance by reaching out first. But Kim was not intimidated, looking him straight in the eye for the duration of the shake. “It was up and down, there was an argy-bargy, each one was pulling the other closer,” said Allan Pease, an Australian body language expert.
2/ Trump’s pat: During the handshake, Trump patted Kim’s shoulder and back, sucking him closer. As the pair walked to the library where they held their meeting, he also maintained control by guiding Kim into the room.
3/ Kim’s pat: The North Korean leader patted Trump’s arm in return in an effort to show that he was at ease. “If you didn’t know who these people were, you’d say the big guy was the father and the little guy is the son,” Pease said.
4/ Trump’s hands: Trump sat upright with his hands in the “steeple shape”. This is a position Trump often displays and it shows “confidence and self-assurance”, according to behaviour expert Karen Leong.
5/ Kim’s posture: Kim leaned on the arm of his chair nearest to Trump. For much of the conversation, he looked downwards, showing traditional Korean deference to an elder.
6/ Trump shows Kim “The Beast”: Trump showed Kim the interior of his bulletproof Cadillac. Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is believed to be fond of Western luxuries.
7/ Korean food: A chance for the inexperienced Kim to feel comfortable. Trump, who famously likes well-done steaks with ketchup, was given a traditional Korean starter called oiseon — Korean stuffed cucumbers — as well as daegu jorim — soy-braised cod with radish, and Asian vegetables.
8/ Yangzhou fried rice: In a nod to China, a looming but unseen presence at these talks. It may have been a message that the US and China had to agree to a compromise on North Korea’s future.
Do these details tell us more than the words exchanged?
The words were largely vague promises that have yet to come to fruition, say some. Small actions reveal the character of the two leaders. And it is their unique characters that led to this meeting in the first place — any hints we can glean about their true desires tell us more than an over-prepared statement.
Stop overanalysing these things, reply others. Body language is fluid and often random, particularly when people are nervous. This meeting could change the world by ending one of its longest modern conflicts. That is what historians will study, rather than gossiping about handshakes and meals.
- What revealed more: the body language and the symbolism, or what Trump and Kim said and agreed?
- Who won the first meeting between Trump and Kim?
- In pairs, pick two other current world leaders, and design a meeting and a meal between them that is rich in symbolism.
- Pick a photograph of a famous historical meeting of world leaders, such as the Yalta Conference, and write an analysis of the body language of the protagonists.
Some People Say...
“Body language is more fascinating to me than actual language.”Michelle Yeoh
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- President Donald Trump met North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un at the Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels and a casino. On sitting down in front of the cameras, Kim said “Nice to meet you Mr President.” The meeting was rich in symbolism and interesting body language. It contrasted heavily with the testy atmosphere at the recent G7 summit.
- What do we not know?
- How much the body language clues really mean. Body language experts often disagree on their interpretations of certain actions. And many of them were quite predictable: we know that Trump is assertive, and a little nervousness on Kim’s part was to be expected. We also do not know when, where or whether the leaders will meet again.
- Within the first minute
- Trump said: “Within the first minute, I’ll know. My touch, my feel — that’s what I do.”
- Traditional Korean deference
- Korean culture is heavily influenced by Confucianism, which originates in China. The philosopher Confucius, who lived in the fifth century BC, emphasised the importance of social hierarchy and respect for one’s elders.
- Bulletproof Cadillac
- “The Beast” weights eight tons. Its doors are eight inches thick, and weigh the same as a Boeing 747’s doors. The vehicle is bullet and bomb-proof, and the doors seal the cabin completely to protect against chemical and biological attacks. The car’s tyres are bulletproof and its wheels have reinforced rims in case they do burst.
- Even Koreans were surprised about this choice. The dish dates back to the Joseon dynasty that ruled from 1392 until 1897. It was the kind of dish eaten by the royal family.
- Cooked slowly in liquid.
- There was also some Western food, such as “dark chocolate tartlet ganache” and “Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream topped with a cherry coulis” for dessert.