Why the selfies are important

The pictures are surreal. Kim, the highly secretive leader, known only in photographs and rude memes, goes on a tour of Singapore as if he was just an ordinary tourist. 

A casual selfie was snapped by our Ministers and in this poor lighting, with his signature hairstyle spoiled from sweat in the tropical heat, he was just another 30 year old man that looked honestly thrilled to be hanging out with some foreign friends.

Perhaps this was what Kim is missing out on: freedom.

His is a position that is unenviable. He lives in fear. Fear of losing control, fear of political instability and fear of assassination. So paranoid he is that his team was reported to have brought their own toilet to collect his waste for secure disposal. Food was flown in probably he fears poisoning attempts. 

A consequence of this heightened sense of security, is that probably has few real friends. In his eyes, he is public enemy; hated by the world at large, the butt of hostile jokes and he is estranged from it.

This is what makes the regime so dangerous. Isolation, sanctions – these have not worked.

So when Singaporean leaders break protocol and indulge in the ordinary act of taking a selfie, it must feel refreshing. What if he could do this over and over again? What if him or North Korea could be an active contributing member of the world? He is after all, human…and seeks validation.

As he stood atop the 55 levels of Marina Bay Sands, I wonder what went through his mind? A market economy can lift so many people out of poverty. It has made so many people rich and happy in China. A capitalist economy is so much easier to manage than a centrally planned one. 

Kim wasn’t the only beneficiary of this hospitality. Singapore has treated the entire North Korean delegate to a taste of capitalism: of goody bags, gifts and McDonalds. How did they feel to see this part of the world? 

In lieu of an important meeting, it was so important for Kim to feel welcomed, warm and embraced. And not just Kim, but Trump also was recipient of our hospitality. This is a President that operates on feelings and mood. The surprise birthday cake was an important move.

Diplomatic events are highly choreographed. Every smile (or lack thereof), each body movement, how flags are placed, the order of handshakes…these are going to be poured over by the world’s media and government chiefs. 

If you’re not familiar with government protocol, you should know that nothing is left to spontaneity. Everything needs to be considered, discussed, debated, risk managed, aide memoired and SWOTed to death, followed by stacks of paperwork to document.

You can be assured Singapore’s choice of actions are anything but frivolous, nothing is spur of the moment. The selfies, the big smiles, the cake – these are strategic and I’m sure there must have been no less than 10 meetings held to consider them. 

The Korean War broke out in 1950. It has not ended, no peace treaty was signed. It split families, cost the lives of 1.2 million people and always threatened to reignite. It is proving very difficult to end this pain.

There is no strategic role for Singapore to play. We cannot have one, it would do more harm than good. But if our hospitality, warmth, friendship, neutrality and obsession with administration can create an environment where the seeds of peace can be planted, it is worth it.

If these acts can put the two leaders in a better mood, if it can lend even an ounce of positive energy to propel these two emotionally charged men to a good outcome for Korean peace, the selfies taken yesterday would go down in history.


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