It’s difficult to know, just before the proposed denuclearisation summit between US President Donald Trump and Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un, what might actually happen on Tuesday in Singapore, or even if the meeting will take place, given the capricious nature of the principals involved.
Both of the leaders, neither of whom are known for their rationality, mental stability, or intellectual prowess, have in the past backed away from actually holding the meeting. But, finally, it seems as it if might actually occur. Set for Tuesday morning on Sentosa island in Singapore, the fate of large parts of the world hangs in the balance.
As the joke goes, the meeting is between two of the most powerful men in their respective hemispheres. One is a dictatorial, political neophyte with no feeling for individual liberty, a capricious approach to the truth and an incredibly stupid haircut. And the other is Kim Jong-un.
The meeting is being held at the astonishingly hideous Capella Hotel on Sentosa, an island which was formerly known as “Pulau Belakang Mati”, which translates as “island of death from behind”, a piece of trivia that should give people pause for thought.
The island is home to a lot of rich people’s houses, and some golf courses, which could come in handy if the two leaders decide to kick back and play a round or two. Trump has played some 110 rounds of golf so far since his inauguration, but he might be outclassed by Kim, whose father, Kim Il-Sung, first picked up a golf club in 1994 and shot a 38-under par round, that included no fewer than 11 holes in one. (Satisfied with his performance, he reportedly immediately declared his retirement from the sport. And who can blame him?)
Several weeks before this week’s putative meeting, it emerged that Trump, with his flair for jumping on cheap merchandising possibilities (like the “Make America Great Again” baseball caps that are manufactured in China), had issued a commemorative coin featuring the two leaders’ improbably stupid haircuts, available from the White House gift shop for a mere $24.95. There have been no reports on how well they’re selling.
And, if you think it’s odd that the US should strike a medal commemorating a man who has locked up at least 120,000 of his own countrymen in prison camps, perhaps it’s just something that tyrants do? After all, there’s no telling how many Americans – poor, black and Latin Americans mostly – that Trump would like to see locked up.
Trump has come hotfoot from the G7 meeting in Canada, where he arrived late and left early, after crossing swords with the leaders of the free world. It is an oft-noted facet of Trump’s management style that he seems to much prefer dealing with dictators, or at least autocrats – Putin, Xi Jinping, Duterte, Erdogan – and is less enamoured of the democratically elected. He called Canada’s Justin Trudeau “dishonest and weak”.
At the time of writing, his wife, Melania will not be going with him to Singapore, which is quite understandable. After all, she’s only 48 years old, as opposed to her husband’s 71 years, so she has quite a lot of time to have to live her past misdeeds down after he eventually falls off his perch. And really, would you want to be seen holding one of his tiny hands in public? After all, you never know what they might’ve been grabbing.
Trump, who apparently has an aversion to reading briefing documents, claimed that he doesn’t need to do much homework before the summit. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much,” he said. “It’s about attitude. It’s about willingness to get things done.” So Trump goes in to the meeting that utterly convinced that his instincts – his feel for the “art of the deal” – are always the best guide to action. It is worth noting that his companies have been declared bankrupt six times so far.
No one knows enough about Kim to tell what he might really be thinking. But it is undoubtedly true that he has a better grasp of the technicalities of his country’s nuclear program and the geopolitical realities that come with it.
I, for one, am looking forward to the whole thing. Nobel prizes all round!
Rupert Winchester is the fiction editor of the Mekong Review