After weeks of anticipation, President Trump announced Thursday that a date and location had been set for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: June 12 in Singapore.
Yes, Singapore — a city-state in Southeast Asia with a population of about 5.6 million — will host what will surely be the biggest diplomatic event of the year. In doing so, it beat out some traditional contenders (Switzerland), some unusual ones (Mongolia) and even North Korea and the United States themselves (some analysts had even semi-seriously pondered a summit at Trump Tower in New York).
But Singapore does make sense, and here are three reasons:
Singapore has good relations with both Washington and Pyongyang
Singapore and the United States agreed to a bilateral free-trade agreement under the George W. Bush administration, and in 2012 the Obama administration agreed to upgrade Singapore to the status of a strategic partner. Three years later, the two countries signed an enhanced security agreement.
The country also has diplomatic ties to North Korea. The two nations established diplomatic relations in 1975, and North Korea has an embassy in Singapore. Relations between the two countries were strained by the assassination of Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, last year in neighboring Malaysia — as well as Singapore’s compliance with U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea — but they still persist.
Nongovernmental organizations, such as Choson Exchange, have even brought North Korean citizens to Singapore so they can gain exposure to a modern, developed economy.
Overall, Singapore has pushed itself as a neutral actor in global affairs. The government there even has a history of putting together high-profile diplomatic events on short notice, hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic 2015 meeting with his then-counterpart from Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou.
Location, location, location
Many analysts suspected that North Korea would push for Trump to come to Pyongyang — not only because it would make Kim look more powerful, but because leaving the country could theoretically open him to a coup or an assassination attempt.
Analysts also expressed doubt that North Korea’s out-of-date airplanes could handle a long journey for Kim — at least without an embarrassing stopover for fueling. That pretty much ruled out more standard but far-flung diplomatic hosts such as Sweden or Switzerland.
Singapore has the advantage of being a relatively short plane ride from North Korea, while still being a gleaming, hyper-modern metropolis that offers top-class facilities. Notably, it’s also a country that made a rapid economic development, going from a poor country to a first-world nation in a few decades under authoritarian leader Lee Kuan Yew — a detail that may appeal to Kim as he pushes for economic reform in his own nation.
It’s as close to a truly neutral site that exists in the region
There were plenty of options for the Trump summit, but almost all faced some sort of political stumbling block. Hosting the meeting in the United States or North Korea might have seemed logical, but choosing either might have implied a power imbalance in negotiations. There are plenty of cities in South Korea and China that could have been suitable, but this is a meeting between Kim and Trump, not other interested parties.
Vladivostok in Russia is also nearby and would have made sense in some ways, but handing Russia a diplomatic victory is not in Trump’s or Kim’s interests at the moment. The demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula was widely raised, including by Trump himself, but there may have been a fear that holding it there would make the meeting look too much like a follow-up to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s summit with Kim last month.
The limited transport options for Kim meant that it had to be somewhere in Asia, which narrowed down the field substantially. In the end, it was a short list — and the window of time to arrange the summit was tight. The venue may lack the symbolism or scenery of some of the other options, but it makes up for it with practicalities.
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