North Korea

Kim Jong Un summit: Could Donald Trump really have earned himself a Nobel peace prize?

Or will the Singapore meeting simply be a photo-op that goes nowhere?

Everyone, including Barack Obama himself, was a bit embarrassed when the former US President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, barely a year after coming to power. Now, two years into the tenure of his successor, Donald Trump, could a second Peace Prize be headed to the White House? Will Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday help end a conflict that is seven decades old?

It seemed impossible to contemplate. Could Trump, a man whose presidency has been marked by racism, sexism, an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russians and a series of ugly battles with American allies, end up making a lasting contribution to global peace?

This is after all the man who insisted that his nuclear button is ”bigger” than North Korea’s. This is the man who spends the early morning tweeting angrily about what he saw on TV. This is the US president who insisted on calling North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, “little rocket man”. This is the “leader of the free world” whose aides cannot stop talking about and treating him like a toddler.

Still, it is impossible to deny the power of the visuals that came out of Singapore, with Trump shaking hands and then sitting to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula with Kim. Trump had to desist from grinning, but Kim had no such compunction, breaking out into a broad smile the minute he met the US president – and thereby achieved something his father and grandfather had failed to do.

What actually came of the summit?

The two leaders signed a joint statement in which the US agreed to establish official diplomatic relations with North Korea while Kim affirmed his commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” There was little in the way of specifics. Indeed, it is unclear even what denuclearization means: The US tends to see it as North Korea giving up its nuclear programme, while Pyongyang understands it to mean Washington will also end its alliance with South Korea, including withdrawing the 30,000 American troops on the peninsula.

But the overall impression was of a successful summit, in which Trump promised to let North Korea open up if Kim could show forward movement on getting rid of his nuclear programme. At a press conference afterwards, Trump elaborated on his new relationship with the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea.

“I want to thank Chairman Kim for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people... My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct, and productive. We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time,” Trump said. “It’s a very great moment in the history of the world. Chairman Kim is on his way back to North Korea and I know for a fact that as soon as he arrives he will start a process that will make a lot of people very happy and very safe.”

The US president then went on to address a press conference that was classic Trump. When asked about Kim’s human rights violations, Trump said he was a “very talented” person who was able to run his country. When asked why he believed that the North Koreans would actually follow through on their promises, Trump said it was because he was the one negotiating. He also pointed out that he had not slept for 25 hours.

Interestingly, Trump already spoke of what he would be getting out of the deal in addition to the nuclear commitments, even though there were no specifics on how the denuclearisation would be verified. “I want to get our soldiers out. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea. I would like to be able to bring them back home,” he said. “That’s not part of the equation. At some point, I hope it would be. We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money. Unless and until we see the future negotiations is not going along like it should. We will be saving a tremendous amount of money.”

This harks back to the Trump that was occasionally seen during the presidential campaign, the candidate who argued that America was trying to do too much internationally and should instead pull back its troops and let the world police itself. Trump has not done much in the way of actually following through on those promises – indeed he has continued US involvement in Afghanistan and West Asia – but it seems to still be a talking point.

What happens now?

The details will have to be worked out in due course, starting with what exactly Kim means by complete denuclearisation and how that will be verified. Trump was vague when asked who would be permitted into North Korea to confirm that it was indeed dismantling its nuclear programme, though he said that Kim is destroying a major missile engine testing site, even though that is not in the agreement.

If Kim does go ahead in a manner that the US is comfortable with and Trump follows through on his promises to pull back troops from South Korea and even Japan, it could reshape Asian geopolitics. South Korea has so far been positive about these efforts, but any withdrawal of American power from the region would leave it deeply vulnerable to Kim – while also giving China a bigger role to play.

This could have a lasting impact on India as well, one in which New Delhi’s new positioning as a major player in an Indo-Pacific theatre becomes important. But all of that depends on whether the good will and positive words from the Singapore summit actually translates into action. Both leaders seemed to believe it would, but this would not be the first time that a much touted global summit ended up being little more than a photo-op that reduced tensions without making much of a dent on reality.

For now, though, Trump can point to an actually historic accomplishment amid the many battles and crises his administration has both caused and had to deal with. And if things do indeed work out as promised in the joint statement, he may even actually have hope of a medal headed in his direction from Norway.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.