Just after 8 pm India time on Thursday, United States President Donald Trump tweeted: “The highly anticipated meeting between (North Korean leader) 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!”
In the weeks since the unprecedented Summit was announced, speculation has swirled over its venue. And the question being asked immediately after Trump’s Thursday announcement was, why Singapore?
The other options
Kim and Trump would both have considered going to the other’s country as bad optics at home, and Kim was also not expected to agree to travel to anywhere else in the Western world (maybe barring a few Scandinavian nations), Japan or South Korea. Beijing would presumably have been keen to play host, but the US wouldn’t have agreed. The rest of Asia, and Africa, would be considered unsuitable from the point of view of security. Trump’s personal preference was for a while said to have been the Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas, but that would have been seen as practically going to the North itself. And Mongolia, which had been mentioned as a possible venue, is probably too close to China for America’s comfort.
Singapore is ‘neutral’
Singapore has no stake in the Korean peninsula. The suspension of trade relations last year notwithstanding, the countries have always been on relatively good terms, and North Koreans did not for a long time need a visa to go to Singapore. It is one of only 40-odd countries in the world in which Pyongyang has an embassy, and is probably one of the countries that Kim is likely to feel the least insecure about. Singapore is also located close enough for North Korea’s aging aircraft to safely reach — this can, in fact, be a bigger concern than it appears, given Kim’s reported fear of flying and security obsessions.
Clear US advantages
At the same time, Singapore is a strong American ally, a preferred port of call for US warships in the region, and the location of a major US Navy logistics base. The city state is also very rich — with a GDP per capita of $ 53,000, just a little less than that of the US — and authoritarian, and the US would probably feel satisfied about the security it can provide to Trump, and for his Summit with the North Korean leader.
Past record of efficiency
Singapore has shown itself capable of organising major international gatherings quickly, efficiently, and without many details leaking out. In 2015, China and Taiwan held their first Summit in over 60 years here — at the Shangri-La Hotel, which also hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.