4 Ways To Interpret PM Lee’s Weird Handshake With Donald Trump


PM Lee Shakes Donald Trump’s Hand, Netizens Say It’s Awkward

So Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and United States President Trump met for the first time last Saturday (July 8) at the G-20 conference in Hamburg.

The meeting rounded off what must have been a difficult week of clearing the air in Parliament over the 38 Oxley Road saga.

That’s why some observers found it strange that the handshake between the 2 leaders was so awkward. After all, PM Lee couldn’t have known that he would be mistaken as the president of Indonesia by Mr Trump’s Instagram account.


From the above photo, PM Lee’s hand looks bent at an awkward angle, with his palm facing down and Mr Trump holding it like he is pumping petrol into his car instead of shaking the hand of another world leader.

Some netizens found it so strange that they even commented on PM Lee’s Facebook page.


What Does A Handshake Mean?

In the world of business and politics, words and rhetoric are the primary mediums used to jostle for power.

However, the fight between leaders to establish dominance begins with the first handshake, according to Forbes magazine — that’s why handshakes between world leaders are closely watched by the world.

Forbes also explained that a handshake can give insight into a person, as it is “the unspoken word that initiates the conversation in almost any social or professional get-together” and “can make or break the tone of your environment”.

However, we must admit that explaining the meaning of a handshake is no easy feat. During a rally for the 2015 General Election, National Solidiarty Party candidate Choong Hon Heng attempted to do just that, to what we would politely describe as mixed results.

So for those who are struggling to understand the definition of the handshake, we found the 4 possible reasons why PM Lee’s handshake ended up like that.

1. It’s Just The Way He Likes It

It’s not the first time that PM Lee has shaken hands with an important person in such a manner. Here he is doing it the same way with then US President Barack Obama.


and the King of Malaysia.


Perhaps it’s just a trademark of his? Something for powerful people to remember him by, to differentiate himself from the president of Indonesia?

2. A King-Lee Gesture

One Reddit user said that PM Lee’s palm-down handshake reminded him of an old-fashioned gesture by ladies when they met men.


Apparently this isn’t just a relic of the past, but accepted international business etiquette, according to this video, at least:

But…PM Lee isn’t a lady.

Perhaps this makes more sense. Another Reddit user suggested that perhaps PM Lee was hoping that Mr Trump would kiss his hand, an act that apparently symbolises “loyalty to the Sovereign”.


So was PM Lee trying to appear like royalty to Mr Trump?  

3. Gaining The Upper Hand

Another Reddit commentator was of the opinion that PM Lee’s “palm down” handshake may have been calculated to show authority.


i.e. If you shake hands with your palm facing down, it symbolises that you have the authority, thus the battle to gain the upper hand in diplomatic negotiations might be won by literally having the upper hand in the handshake.

4. He Was Hand-Twisted By Trump

However, in direct contrast to the above opinion, some think that the awkward handshake was actually the result of a classic Trump power grip, which PM Lee was just attempting to fend off.


There is ample precedent for that, as it’s a known fact that Mr Trump tries to stamp his authority on other leaders by giving them a rather aggressive handshake. It has caught politicians off-guard on numerous occasions.

For example, his much-discussed “death grip” handshake with French President  Emmanuel Macron when they first met:

And again, during a group meeting:


However, some netizens have said that from the photos, it seemed that PM Lee knew the perfect reply to such aggression.


On A Roll

Of course, PM Lee’s handshake with Mr Trump means nothing if it doesn’t result in better bilateral ties with the US.

And on that note, we’re glad that PM Lee said the meeting went well, and the countries reaffirmed their excellent ties.

Whether that translates to a better future for Singapore is still uncertain.

With the 38 Oxley Road saga finally on a hiatus, perhaps PM Lee can now turn his thoughts to getting Singapore back on track after a slew of bilateral hiccups?

Featured images from Facebook and Reddit




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