'Best that could be achieved': Former diplomat weighs into Trump-Kim summit


A former ambassador to South Korea has outlined to SBS News why he believes the Trump-Kim summit was a "positive step".

Donald Trump promised the "world will see a major change" when Kim Jong-un committed to "complete denuclearisation" during their historic summit.

But for Richard Broinowski, a former Australian ambassador to South Korea, that remains to be seen.

“It’s definitely a positive step. The [joint statement] is a roadmap," Mr Broinowski told SBS News.

"Critics say there is nothing of substance in the document, but I don’t know what else they could have achieved in that short space of time. It's a statement of principles and intent.” 

Donald Trump
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands after a document signing at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island.

Mr Broinowski, who is the current President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in NSW and has served as a diplomat in four East Asian nations, said the mere fact the leaders have met is a success in itself.

“It’s reached the expectations that all of us, who want there to be movement, have had. The fact that they both arrived in Singapore, they could not have met in a better place than Singapore," he said.

“I think most members of the UN are applauding it, most NATO members are applauding it too,” he said, adding: "the Australian government has taken a cautious but approving approach to what has happened." 

Most importantly, China, the North’s largest trading partner, has been closely scrutinising this historic encounter.

“China would be worried about Trump going too far, too quickly. The nightmare would be a unified Korea in which America troops are still involved. They regard North Korea as a bulwark against American encroachment," Mr Broinowski said.

Richard Broinowski.
Richard Broinowski.

The Singapore summit involved a delicate balance of longstanding and complex issues. 

“On the one side, Trump wants complete verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament. That’s a huge call,” said Mr Broinowski.

“I’m not sure Kim is going to make that but he’s already blown up tunnels where he is said to have tested nuclear devices; that’s a step, that’s symbolic.

“On the other hand, Kim wants a peace treaty to replace the armistice he wants a guarantee from the United States that they won’t bring about regime change and he wants a lifting of sanctions so North Korea can join the international economic community and get on with it.”

He described the Kim-Trump face-to-face as “cordial and symbolic”, a far cry from a year ago when the men were trading barbs and threatening nuclear conflict.

US President Donald Trump (2nd R) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (2nd L) sign documents.
US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un sign documents.

Kim himself has managed to somewhat overhaul his image in a matter of months.

The 34-year-old, who is described by critics as a murderous dictator ruling over the world’s most reclusive country, has a carved out an appearance of open-mindedness with charisma since meeting South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in.

In front of a wall of North Korea and US flags, both Kim and Trump seemed reserved at their initial photo opportunity.

Still, some analysts believe the mere display of diplomatic friendliness is not enough.

The United Nations has long decried the North’s treatment of its people, saying there are “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in a 2014 report.  

Kim ordered the public assassination of his half-brother with a nerve agent, executed his uncle by firing squad and presided over a notorious gulag estimated to hold 80,000 to 130,000 children, women and men.

Mr Trump said he raised North Korea's brutal human rights record with Kim, but critics said he didn't go far enough.

A wise move, Mr Broinowski said,  “this had to be nuclear. Talk about that first then move on to other issues.”  

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