Cheers in South Korea and a one-page “extra” edition of a Japanese newspaper greeted Tuesday’s unprecedented summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. The reaction was muted in nearby China, but officials no doubt kept a close watch.
Trump became the first sitting American president to meet a North Korean leader when the two shook hands and sat down to talk at a resort hotel in Singapore.
Around Asia and the world, many have welcomed a flurry of diplomacy between the two adversaries in recent months, after a year of mounting tension and threats. Hopes for peace on the long-divided Korean Peninsula, however, remain tempered by the many failed attempts in the past.
The leaders of South Korea, Japan and Malaysia were among those wishing for a successful summit.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he “could hardly sleep last night” in anticipation of the meeting and expressed hope for “complete denuclearization and peace.”
New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, on a visit to Tokyo, said, “I hope that both parties will accept the fact that, in negotiation, both sides must be prepared to give in on certain issues if they expect to reach a good conclusion.”
China, which provided a Boeing 747 that flew Kim from Pyongyang to Singapore, wants to ensure its interests are preserved in any negotiations, namely, that they don’t result in a unified Korea that is pro-American.
An editorial in the official English-language China Daily emphasized China’s role in bringing Trump and Kim together. It called on them to maintain the positive momentum.
“This would not only reward all those who have spared no efforts in their attempts to make their meeting a reality, it would also enable both to hail it as a success,” the editorial read in part.
Hu Xijin, editor of the influential Communist Party newspaper Global Times, said that he was “truly happy for this moment.” He dismissed as cynical those Chinese internet users who asked if Beijing had been marginalized in these talks.
“I think these people really grew up in negative energy,” he wrote on his Sina Weibo microblog. “They should see how all the major media outlets around the world are commenting that China’s role in solving the denuclearization question is irreplaceable.”
At a train station in Seoul, the South Korean capital, people cheered and applauded as media screens broadcast the Trump-Kim handshake live.
“I really, really hope for a good outcome,” said Yoon Ji, a professor at Sungshin University in Seoul. “I am hoping for denuclearization and a peace agreement and also for North Korea’s economy to open up.”
Some questioned whether Kim would fully relinquish the weapons he may see as his only guarantee of survival.
“I am still not sure whether the North is willing to denuclearize or not,” said Jo Han-won. “We never knew much about the North Korean regime and it’s hard to distinguish what’s true and what’s false.”
Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, printed a special edition in both Japanese and English that was distributed for free in major cities 90 minutes after the meeting began.
Passersby outside a Tokyo train station snapped up 500 copies in a flash, excited to have a souvenir of the historic event. They generally welcomed the meeting as a good first step but wondered if any progress would be made on the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
“My biggest concern is the abduction issue, then the nuclear and missile,” said 70-year-old retiree Tomoaki Kenmotsu. “I have no idea how much the abduction issue is being taken up at the summit, but I hope it will be a good start for that issue too.”
The hard work remains to come, said Momoko Shimada, a 20-year-old student. “After the handshake and political show will be the real action. I believe that won’t be easy.”