Forget “Must-See TV.”
When the norm-shattering handshake between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un flashed across television screens worldwide, it was more like, “Wait. Did-That-Just-Really-Happen? TV.”
In Manhasset, Minsun Kim considered herself lucky to be living through such a moment late Monday night and into a bleary-eyed early Tuesday morning as she watched coverage of Trump and Kim smiling, strolling and trading small talk like buddies at a college reunion.
“Being able to witness such a historic event makes us part of a very fortunate Korean generation,” said Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater New York.
For Kim and other Korean-Americans, the lead-up to the Singapore summit had been emotional and frustrating. The two leaders’ previous exchanges had rarely strayed beyond threats of nuclear annihilation or name-calling. But in Singapore, at least for the moment, they were carving out a possible path to lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Arnie Lee, 34, of Queens, said he also stayed up well into Tuesday, his eyes fixed on the TV screen as the summit continued.
“It’s unbelievable that it took place at all,” said Lee, who moved from Seoul about 18 years ago. “A lot of things could have went wrong that didn’t . . . At least they met each other half way and there’s hope for the next round of talks. We’ll see what happens.”
Critics said Kim meeting with an American president gave him legitimacy as a world leader he didn’t deserve after waves of accusations detailing human rights abuses, political assassinations and kidnappings of foreign nationals.
The two leaders on Tuesday steered clear of getting into details about the human rights question or prospects for North Korea’s long-term denuclearization. Trump and Kim did sign a document that largely amounted to an agreement to continue discussions, much like previous public statements and past commitments between the two countries. It did not include an agreement to take steps toward ending the technical state of war between the U.S. and North Korea but other gestures from both sides showed closer ties were possible.
Kim affirmed his commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and Trump predicted “a bright new future” for Kim’s isolated and impoverished nation.
The president’s announcement he would freeze U.S. military war games with South Korea caught many off guard, including leaders of the American ally, said Paul Fritz, an associate professor of political science at Hofstra University.
Fritz said the joint statement was “very vague” and similar to what North Korea has pledged to do in the past.
The joint military exercises are a key ally-building mechanism in which the United States has participated for years, Fritz said.
“That was a big card the U.S. had to play,” he said. “It seems to have been played really early.”
Despite the relatively upbeat tone of the summit, Youngsoo Choi, 47, a Great Neck attorney, said he expected more. Choi said he had hoped Trump and Kim would announce the formal end to the Korean War but still saw their meeting as a move in the right direction.
“I see it as restoring the trust between the two leaders and a signal to the world that there are many good things happening along the road,” said Choi, who’s from Hamyang, South Korea and emigrated in 1999.