Undermine North Korea negotiations
and now has released these three prisoners. And those are signs of good faith, and we hope to build on that.”
Critics said Trump, enamoured with his own handiwork, has focused too heavily on shaping the public narrative ahead of the summit and trying to set the stage for a political victory. Always mindful of how his actions are playing on television, the President boasted on the tarmac at Andrews last week that the cable networks live-broadcasting the return of the American prisoners would set all-time viewership records.
“President Trump has forged a new category of international relations that I would call diplotainment, and the Singapore meeting is going to demonstrate diplotainment at its pinnacle,” said Daniel Russel, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “Imagine the size the crowd is going to be in Singapore — it’s going to be huge. But those are very different deliverables than, say, the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
All administrations have employed elements of stagecraft to advance a president’s foreign policy agenda. But few have embraced the role with as much gusto as Trump.
Yet as Trump has shifted into summit mode, he has appeared infatuated by the prospects of a historic deal, with supporters already talking about a potential Nobel Peace Prize.
After seeing images of Kim and Moon, during their summit, taking turns stepping across the border at the 38th parallel, Trump ruminated that the demilitarised zone might be a good site for his own meeting with Kim.
“If things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had, on the site,” he said.
But experts noted that the Panmunjon Declaration signed by the two Korean leaders did not contain significant new breakthroughs and appeared to be a more symbolic bid by Moon to improve relations and create the optics of success for Trump.
Trump’s focus is “very much getting the public involved and invested in what’s going on. That’s the way you shape the narrative”, said Pak, the Brookings analyst. “Moon is doing something similar. By televising the summit, televising the meetings, he’s creating an intimacy between the viewer and the object.” The upshot, she said, is a win for Kim — humanising him and helping him shed a label as “the creature from Pyongyang”.
Yet Pyongyang’s threat to cancel the summit was a reminder that Trump is facing an unpredictable and wily negotiating partner, one prone to similar public outbursts and bouts of showmanship.
Bruce Klingner, a former US intelligence analyst who now works at the Heritage Foundation, said that in envisioning potential outcomes for the summit, he believes it is likely that Trump will take a page from his book,
in which the real estate developer touted the virtues of “truthful hyperbole”. No matter what Trump agrees to with Kim, regardless of the details, Klingner said, the President will declare it “the best deal in the world”.