Asian Media Reacts to Trump-Kim Summit

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

News organizations across Asia responded to the Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un with a mixture of cynicism and guarded optimism on Tuesday.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo dismissed the Singapore declaration as a “vaguely worded agreement that disappointed many who had hoped for a firmer commitment to denuclearization.”

Chosun Ilbo said the summit was more about “photo ops” than serious negotiations, finding little value in Kim Jong-un’s loose commitment to work “towards” denuclearization, with the implication that he will seek “mutual disarmament talks rather than unilateral scrapping of his nuclear program.”

The South Korean paper added that Trump “alarmed South Koreans” with his “throwaway promise” to end joint military exercises.

Korea Joongang Daily was much more optimistic about the “historic summit,” holding out hope that it was the beginning of a process that could lead to the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea. The report emphasized how well Trump and Kim seemed to get along personally and concluded by noting Trump said he would “meet many times” with Kim in the future.

Another Korea Joongang Daily report focused on the economic changes that could come to North Korea (and, by extension, South Korea) as a result of diplomatic openness and liberalization, quoting experts who expected Kim to pursue the Chinese or Singaporean models of authoritarian pseudo-capitalism.

Korea Joongang Daily was especially intrigued by the keen interest Kim showed in Singapore during his visit. (Anna Fifield of the Washington Post made an interesting observation that Pyongyang media is publishing extensive photo essays of Kim in Singapore, which must be an astonishing sight for North Koreans who can only dream of having reliable electric power.)

In a roundup of North Korean media reactions, KJD highlighted the unprecedented level of coverage given to Kim’s trip, and the telling detail that North Korea’s tightly controlled press suddenly began acknowledging that denuclearization is on the table after the summit ended with smiles all around. During Kim’s few previous trips beyond North Korea’s borders, his media waited to publish stories until he was safely back home.

Japan’s Mainichi was hopeful that Japanese concerns, especially disclosures about citizens kidnapped by North Korea in decades past, would be addressed during the denuclearization process even though they were not mentioned in the Singapore declaration. The hope is that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can now hold his own meeting with Kim Jong-un, either in person or through high-level ministers, to address Japan’s concerns.

The Asahi Shimbun noted that Abe praised the Singapore summit as the first step in a “comprehensive resolution.” Abe also thanked Trump for “raising the abduction issue,” which suggests the abductees were discussed to Abe’s satisfaction even though they were not referenced directly by the post-summit declaration.

China’s state-run Global Times was pleased with the outcome of the summit, which it described as a step toward regional security that would have been almost unimaginable six months ago. Of course, the Chinese paper detected a “certain force” behind this historic achievement, and while the editorial is too demure to spell out the name of that force, it certainly isn’t emanating from Washington or Pyongyang.

Perhaps the most ominous portent from the Singapore summit is that Chinese media is still hedging its bets instead of openly declaring the affair a towering achievement of diplomacy that would not have been possible without Beijing’s wise leadership:

This force is the new logic of international politics in the 21st century. This is not an era in which everything is decided by conquest. No matter how powerful a nation’s military, it cannot solve all the problems concerning its core interests, neither can it create well-being and peace. Mutual respect for others’ core interest and care for each other’s major concerns is now at the top of global political rules.

From this perspective, we can be more optimistic and confident over the future US-North Korea relations and their outlook of carrying out the agreement. It is rational to think that Washington and Pyongyang will continue to follow the roadmap they outlined today. It is more in line with their interests than turning around halfway or going back to hostilities.

To further promote denuclearization on the Peninsula, it is necessary to keep injecting momentum into the process. Boosting North Korea’s enthusiasm is crucial. Washington used to be very skeptical about Pyongyang, but this year, North Korea has been very consistent. It has taken unilateral steps to release three US hostages and demolished its nuclear test site. It is time to consider alleviating sanctions against Pyongyang.

The editorial writers of the Chinese Communist People’s Daily were busy pumping up the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Qingdao as the most important thing going on in the world right now, but the paper’s news writers oversold the Shanghai summit by announcing “Kim agrees with Trump to complete denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees” and claiming the Singapore declaration was a “comprehensive pact.”

The Philippine Star reported that Trump “stunned the Korean peninsula by announcing the stoppage of U.S.-South Korean annual war games that have long been defended as defensive and vital by the allies.” The Philippine outlet also noted that Asian and European stocks are up following the summit.

Channel News Asia wondered if a Nobel Peace Price could be in the offing for Trump and Kim Jong-un, concluding that the prestigious prize “may remain elusive for the duo,” even if denuclearization is achieved.

A roundup of analysts by Channel News Asia found much skepticism that North Korea’s nuclear missile program will decisively end as a result of the Trump-Kim negotiations, with much attention paid to the lack of the words “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” in the Singapore declaration.

In Malaysia, which had solid relations with Pyongyang until North Korean agents used a weapon of mass destruction to murder Kim Jong-un’s half-brother at the Kuala Lumpur airport, the Straits Times wondered who used the “art of the deal” against who in Singapore.

On the other hand, Trump was praised for understanding better than previous American presidents how much emphasis North Korea puts on personal exchanges between national leaders, and how its paranoia about regime change must be addressed by recognizing the legitimacy of its government before negotiations can move forward.

In Guam, frequently threatened with destruction by North Korea because of the U.S. bombers based there, the editors of the Pacific Daily News hoped for the best and expressed relief that “cooler heads and kinder words” appear to be prevailing.

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