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The diplomatic world has been turned upside down following historic summit

U. S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un during their first meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in Singapore. Credit: AP

The world has been turned upside down.

That’s the only conclusion we can draw from today’s summit and the diplomacy of the last three days. Even Kim Jong-un was overheard comparing today’s events to a science fiction movie.

America has managed to antagonise its closest allies and befriend the North Koreans. Both are remarkable events, although we cannot be certain which is the more significant.

Kim Jong Un was clearly very happy during the summit. Credit: AP

Certainly, there is something profoundly uplifting in seeing two bitter enemies attempt to overcome the past. President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un walked towards each other and shook hands for thirteen long seconds, one of the most powerful and implausible images of this young century.

But, in this case, it was also deeply unsettling. It was impossible not to think of the 100,000 North Koreans living - and dying - in a network of Stalinesque gulags. Impossible not to think of millions of citizens three thousand miles north of here enduring famine-like conditions to support a brutal personality cult.

What we cannot know is whether this is an aberration - a fleeting hope - that will soon vanish. Or whether this is a moment when Kim Jong-un makes a historic strategic choice to come in from the cold, abandon his nuclear arsenal and to take his country in an entirely new direction.

A beaming Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Donald Trump. Credit: AP

Perhaps Kim has seen the new China - a hybrid of authoritarianism and economic growth - and decided that’s the route he wants to go.

Whatever decisions will be made in the next few hours, we can be observers to the grand diplomatic theatre, relish the sense of history, and still remember the tragic conditions imposed on its own people by North Korea’s brutal dynasty.