Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un summit: Diplomatic ties with US, North Korea make Singapore a 'natural choice' for venue

After much speculation, the highly anticipated meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled to take place on 12 June in Singapore.

Washington is likely to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons after the two leaders exchanged fiery rhetoric last year over North Korea's attempts to build a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States.

But tensions have since eased greatly, starting around the time of the North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

Trump wrote on Twitter:

The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!

His announcement came just hours after three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea arrived at a US military base outside Washington, having been released by Kim as a gesture of good faith ahead of the summit.

'A natural choice'

Singapore is seen as a natural choice for the meeting between the two leaders. It was the early leading choice among top administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House chief of staff John Kelly, who recognised that the summit location would play an important role in how the talks are viewed around the world, reported CNN.

A combination photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump. Reuters

A combination photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump. Reuters

Singapore is in the rare position of having diplomatic relations with both Washington and Pyongyang, plus a track record of hosting sensitive encounters.

"As a neutral, and objective country with much-admired consistent foreign policy principles and a small state with no desire or capacity to harm other states and their interests, Singapore fits that bill well," said Lim Tai Wei, adjunct research fellow at the National University of Singapore's East Asia Institute.

One of the world's wealthiest countries per-capita, the island state of 5.6 million people has an advanced military, robust security infrastructure, and is considered one of the safest and least corrupt places on earth.

Further, Kim is only known to have travelled abroad for the first time this year, with visits to China and a brief sojourn across the high-security border into South Korea for a historic meeting with President Moon Jae-in in April.

'Plays host to other meetings'

As the current chair of ASEAN, Singapore is already scheduled to host multiple high-profile meetings this year, the American Enterprise Institute's Dan Blumenthal told Politico, and will also host the ministers of defence from almost 30 nations early next month at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

This year's forum at the Shangri-La hotel comes a week before Trump-Kim, meaning Singapore will already be in high-security mode, fuelling speculation that the hotel also will host the summit.

In 2015, Singapore hosted a historic meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwan's then-leader Ma Ying-jeou, the first between presidents of the two sides since a 1949 civil war split that led to decades of estrangement.

From Trump's standpoint, business-oriented Singapore is among Washington's closest trade and security partners in Asia.

Travelling there allows Trump to avoid the DMZ, which might have appeared like home turf for Kim, while a Beijing meeting could have allowed China to exert control.

Singapore "doesn't have the historical or political baggage" of other possible venues, said Sarah Teo, an expert on regional security at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Singapore, with its tight controls on the local press and freedom of speech, also offers a venue likely to be free from potentially tense protests, the Politico report added.

It also will be acceptable to Beijing, North Korea's only major ally and still a strong influence over Pyongyang. Singapore has long had smooth ties with China.

"A successful summit would be a huge feather in Singapore's cap, elevating its reputation for fair dealing and neutrality; but a less successful one will not take anything away from it," said a commentary piece in Singapore's The Straits Times.

Singapore and North Korea have a history – the first law firm and fast-food restaurant in Pyongyang were set up by Singaporeans – though relations snagged last year when Singapore severed trade ties under new UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programmes.

Located just over 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) from North Korea, Singapore is comfortably within the flying range of its aircraft. Flying to western Europe would require a stop or two to refuel.

"Singapore is neither too far away as European nations are, allowing Kim Jong Un's private jet to make it here without refueling, nor too close that Trump might be seen as 'giving way' to Kim by having to travel a longer distance than the latter," said Nah Liang Tuang, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: May 11, 2018 17:48:18 IST

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