Staged diplomacy

 US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore on June 12. FILE PHOTO
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore on June 12. FILE PHOTO


“Razzmatazz diplomacy” might also work as a header for this commentary on the unbelievable goings on in international diplomacy in the last week. The common denominator was US President Donald Trump.

I do not watch a lot of TV but I would not have missed, not for anything, the carefully orchestrated high drama of the first meeting of an incumbent US President and a ruling North Korean leader, and certainly not when the two players are the kings of the double bluff, disruptive President Trump and calculating Kim Jong Un. The stakes were high for both men and the reality TV producers delivered an excellent show with every element of coverage well executed to give each man a fair shot at being captured on film so that their historic meeting could never be forgotten.

Almost as if intended, the two countries’ flags, symmetrical in design, are coloured red and blue and white with the white star as the common motif, affording a perfectly harmonious backdrop. The correct placement of cameras allowed for no accidental black holes in the coverage. The layout of the set called for a long walk by each man who approached each other from opposite ends of the covered patio areas of the meeting place, starting off at precisely the same moment, as if by a starter’s gun, so that they met bang in the middle of a carefully measured background of an equal share of their countries’ flags. If you ever saw a western film and know how two gunslingers approach each other for a showdown, this had all of that moment.

The image captured by the world’s cameras was iconic [there is no better word]. The tall, blonde demigod on one side, the short, dark tyrant on the other, caught in indelible profile, their calculated handshake protracted as the selected cameramen gathered career-advancing shots of the two men mouthing empty words at each other since their translators were not allowed into the frame to spoil the picture. The Svengali President Trump had created a script that the TV commentators unwittingly, or maybe happily, followed about how he would know within 30 seconds if he and Kim would get on and reach a deal. It wrenched up the sense of drama, will he, won’t he, will he, won’t he, will he like the man? If he does not, then what will transpire next? I give President Trump full marks on his masterful playing of the media in this way, even if it further trivialises politics.

Holding back information to the media about exactly what they would be allowed to cover and then granting an extra couple of minutes here and there, had the camera crews pushing forward, themselves being filmed all the while so that the import of the great moment would not be lost on TV audiences back home.

Both men had a lot to gain by just meeting each other. For the young Korean to have played his hand so well that he lured the ace of spades from the pack and commanded international attention, he has already won a huge victory that will strengthen his position at home. For President Trump, this is his Nixon meets China, or Kennedy meets Russia or Obama gets Iran. Each man was praised for halting the certain outcome of war as we have never seen it before.

But the important question is who will outwit whom? The North Koreans are not in a hurry as there will be no regime change there any time soon due to elections, so they can play the long game. President Trump, however, is fast on the draw, which suits his situation. The reports emanating immediately after the meeting suggested that Trump had shot himself in the foot by promising to stop military exercises in South Korea, which has been a sticking point for Kim and his advisers, but from the surprisingly long post-meeting press conference by President Trump it seems that Korea has promised to denuclearise its war arsenal.

However, we have been here before. North Korea has reportedly consistently reneged on its promises. And President Trump? Well, he tore up an agreement he had signed with the G7 leaders just hours after leaving their meeting in Canada while en route to his meeting in Singapore. In another unforgettable play to the gallery, the US leader claimed, like in a Roman drama, that he had been stabbed in the back by his host and would, therefore, spite all members of the G7 club in retaliation. I recommend readers dig out the images of the G7 summit. They speak louder than anything I could write here. Just consider the body language. The writing was clearly on the wall.


"Staged diplomacy"

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