History versus hype as tyrant meets tycoon

Howdy: Kim Jong-un: “we had a historic meeting and decided to leave the past behind.” © Getty

Was yesterday truly historic? Kim Jong-un pledged to “denuclearise” North Korea, and Donald Trump vowed to end US “war games”. But is this hollow propaganda — or a genuine turning point?

Their handshake lasted 13 seconds. But its consequences could endure for decades.

Yesterday, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un became the first sitting US president and North Korean leader to meet face-to-face.

“We will have a terrific relationship”, Trump declared moments after they met. He later described Kim as “very talented” with a “great personality” — their amicable dialogue a remarkable shift from the insults they previously shared.

Then came the all-important talks: a private one-on-one between the two leaders, followed by a working lunch surrounded by advisers. The result? A signed agreement in which North Korea promised to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

While Trump hailed the commitment as “tremendous”, some observers say it lacks meaningful detail; repeats commitments North Korea has already made; and falls short of the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” that the US desires.

In return, Trump committed to “security guarantees” for the North, and surprised many by announcing an end to American military exercises in South Korea. This is seen as a big concession, and was described by The New York Times as a “remarkable bet” that Kim will “follow through on pledges to surrender his nuclear weapons”.

The president’s gamble may yet pay off. However, the summit is already a major propaganda victory for Kim.

North Korea is an impoverished police state ruthlessly controlled by the Kim dynasty — responsible for endemic human rights abuses against its population.

A 2014 United Nations study reported “murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions,… the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

And yesterday, the man ultimately to blame for this was treated like a true statesman. If Trump gets his way, he could soon visit the White House too.

Will the summit bring historic change?


Trump has forced real change, some argue. His “top-down” approach of dealing with Kim directly offers the chance for meaningful breakthroughs, and fosters a spirit of co-operation. Denuclearisation will take time, but where there was once suspicion and fear, there is now a solid diplomatic relationship to build on. This change is truly historic.

How naïve, others respond. Trump has been played — conceding strategic military position for hollow promises North Korea will soon drop. What’s more, he gave a murderous dictator a platform that will only help tighten his oppressive rule at home. Trump wants to convince the world he is a peace-making hero. In truth, the whole summit was a sham.

You Decide

  1. Can the world trust Kim Jong-un?
  2. Should Trump have met with him in the first place?


  1. Imagine you are tasked to find out what life is really like in North Korea, and you have the opportunity to ask a North Korean citizen three questions. What would you ask them and why? After this summit, do you think conditions in North Korea will get better or worse?
  2. Watch the second video under Become An Expert. Trump allegedly played the same clip to Kim during the summit. What are your first impressions of the video? Is its message effective? What visual and rhetorical techniques does it use to appeal to the North Korean dictator.

Some People Say...

“The past does not have to define the future.”

President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The joint statement commits North Korea to “work toward” denuclearisation. This is far from a guarantee that Kim will start reducing his nuclear arsenal — something which will likely require greater concessions from the United States. However, the agreement also states that there will be “follow-on negotiations” in which further details can be confirmed.
What do we not know?
Regarding US troops in South Korea, Trump has stated that he would “like to be able to bring them back home.” However, this would have big implications for South Korea‘s security in the region, and it is unclear how likely this is. Trump stated that he and Kim will “meet many times”, however we do not know when, where, or if another summit will take place.

Word Watch

Kim has branded Trump a “mentally deranged dotard”, while Trump threatened to attack North Korea with a storm of “fire and fury”.
They were only accompanied by translators. The talk lasted for around 38 minutes.
For example, in 1992 North and South Korea signed an agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. This led to discussions between American and North Korean diplomats, but never a presidential summit. Read The Guardian link in Become An Expert for more.
One of the key sticking points of American expectations. Trump has since claimed that North Korea’s proposed denuclearisation would be verified, but offered no details as to how this would be achieved.
Military exercises
The US has around 30,000 troops deployed in South Korea — their presence a long-running source of anxiety for the North.
United Nations study
“Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Prolonged starvation
Between two and three million people are thought to have died during a famine in North Korea in the 1990s.


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