Ties with US, North Korea make Singapore optimum summit site

2018-05-11 18:42
A news vendor counts her money near a stack of newspapers with a photo of US President Donald Trump, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un on its front page in Singapore. (Wong Maye-E, AP)

A news vendor counts her money near a stack of newspapers with a photo of US President Donald Trump, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un on its front page in Singapore. (Wong Maye-E, AP)

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With the Demilitarised Zone on the Korean Peninsula out of contention, the small nation of Singapore is a natural choice for the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, analysts say.

Among the factors are its proximity to North Korea, the experience of its security forces, and the fact that Pyongyang has had diplomatic relations with the country since 1975.

Trump announced in a tweet on Thursday that the two leaders will meet in Singapore on June 12.

The city is "a great location" for the summit, said Tom Plant, who specialises in nuclear and proliferation issues at London's Royal United Services Institute.

"Kim will be on friendly territory, not hostile territory. But he wouldn't be on home turf," Plant said.

Singapore is familiar ground for the reclusive communist country, which has its embassy in Singapore's central business district.

Single-party rule since Singapore gained independence in 1965 has ensured stability and fostered a security state that is among the world's most efficient, although sometimes it is decried by civil libertarians as repressive. Located between two Muslim majority nations – Malaysia and Indonesia – with Islamic State group sympathisers, it has effectively checked terrorist threats.

According to the US State Department's report on human rights for 2017, Singapore's "most significant human rights issues" included caning as punishment imposed by the courts; preventive detention under various laws without warrant, filing of charges, or normal judicial review; monitoring private electronic or telephone communications without a warrant; significant restrictions on freedoms of assembly and expression, including for the press and online; the use of defamation laws to discourage criticism; laws and regulations significantly limiting freedom of association; and the criminalisation of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced.

Ideal location

North Korea's state companies have, in the past, conducted legal and illegal business dealings with Singapore companies. The city-state, under pressure from the US and a leaked UN report, officially cut off trade relations with North Korea in 2017 to abide by sanctions.

Singapore also is welcome ground for the United States. It is a large trading partner, the second-largest Asian investor, and a longtime supporter of its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. It's also the regional headquarters of large US companies including Google, Facebook and Airbnb. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1966.

"The North Korean side will likely have a very large number of logistical and protocol issues it wants addressed by the summit venue, so having a (North Korean) embassy in the country where the summit is to be held is likely a requirement," said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Located just over 4 800km 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.

Welcoming

Former US Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said Singapore was ideal because it has been "an honest broker between East and West".

"Singapore has been a great friend to the US but also Singapore has carefully worked to be a friend to all, which has earned it trust in capitals around the world," he said.

Its free enterprise philosophy welcomes trading partners from everywhere, regardless of politics.

"We hope this meeting will advance prospects for peace in the Korean Peninsula," Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

In 2015, Singapore it was the site of another unprecedented summit between two leaders burdened with a legacy of mutual distrust: Chinese President Xi Jinping and rival Taiwan's then-president Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

It also has hosted regional meetings, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits in 2007 and 2018. Since 2002, an annual security conference has been held there, featuring defence chiefs and officials from countries including the U.S., China and South Korea.

For such gatherings, roadblocks are set up around the summit venues, where armed Nepalese Gurkhas stand guard.

In 2015, Gurkha officers fired at a car that breached four roadblocks and crashed into a concrete barrier. The driver was killed and two passengers arrested in what turned out to be a drug-related crash, rather than an attack.

Valued foreign guests won't be troubled by protesters, either. Demonstrations in Singapore can only be held in a designated area, the 2.4-acre (0.9-hectare) Hong Lim Park.

Amnesty International says amendments to the country's Public Order Act have given authorities more power to restrict public assembly, and participants in peaceful protests have been arrested.

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Read more on:    donald trump  |  kim jong un  |  singapore

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