It doesn't matter what happens at Trump's Singapore meeting with Kim Jong Un -- the North Korean leader already won

Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty ImagesNorth Korean Leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Inter-Korean Summit at the Peace House on April 27, 2018 in Panmunjom, South Korea.
  • The June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore will give North Korea the legitimacy it has craved for decades.
  • Travelling by plane to a neutral destination far from the Korean Peninsula will show Kim as a competent world leader.
  • This will add to the level of legitimacy that will be granted by Kim just being able to meet with Trump, regardless of the location or outcome.
  • But Singapore also symbolises Trump’s desire to move away from South Korea as an intermediary between the US and North Korea.and that neither country needs to rely on South Korea.

Singapore will host the historic June 12 meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, and the destination will give North Korea’s leader the one thing he craves most: legitimacy.

North Korea has long wanted to be seen and treated as like any other country, and its development of nuclear weapons was seen by many as a means to achieve that end. And now that the June 12 meeting will be hosted by a country far beyond the geography of the Korean Peninsula, that outcome appears closer than ever.

“What the North Koreans want to do is demonstrate that they are a peer partner of the US and doing [the summit] outside of South Korea is a net benefit for them,” Euan Graham, the director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, told Business Insider.

“That’s why I think Kim is prepared to take this risk of flying all the way there, even though that is unprecedented… because what he wants is this optic of meeting Trump as his nuclear equal on a grand stage and with South Korea not present. I think that’s more effective as a symbol for him.”

The last time a North Korean leader flew internationally was in 1986 when Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, flew to the Soviet Union. Kim’s father much preferred travelling by train and it had been rumoured that Pyongyang did not have a plane capable of flying Kim to an international destination.

Then last week, Kim flew to visit President Xi Jinping in Dalian, China, which could have been a practice run for flying to Singapore, which will show the world that the head of North Korean travels and operates like any other world leader.

But Singapore “made obvious sense” as a neutral venue, said Graham, particularly over the other options of the DMZ and Mongolia.

The southeast Asian country offers a high level of security, it has experience facilitating global meetings, and from a scheduling point of view, the city-state will have hosted national-security leaders for Asia’s premier defence summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, just over a week earlier. Attending the summit in Singapore may also help Trump – who has allowed South Korea to take the lead on dialogue with North Korea – to appear like he is taking control of the talks.

But regardless of the venue or even outcome, any meeting between Trump and Kim will be seen as a huge propaganda win for North Korea, according to Robert Kelly, a ;political expert at South Korea’s Pusan National University,

“If it’s a bust it’s still a win for the North Koreans because you get the photograph of the North Korean leader meeting the American president one-to-one,” Kelly said while speaking on a panel about North Korea attended by Business Insider at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in Australia last week.

North Korea has wanted that moment for decades because the minute Kim meets Trump, his leadership and the existence of the North Korean regime will be legitimized.

“North Korea is a tinpot dictatorship and meeting the leader of the free world is automatically legitimacy branding,” Kelly said. “If you’re the North Koreans you want to meet them because it symbolises you’re a real country, not a backward, feudal, Orwellian fiefdom, which is what North Korea really is.”

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