According to recent reports, the United States has identified Singapore as its preferred venue for the as-yet-unscheduled summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Trump on Wednesday ruled out a meeting in the Korea Peninsula’s Demilitarised Zone, saying he would announce the date and location in the coming days. Now we know that Kim has an airliner at his disposal (the North Korean leader’s visit to Dalian, in China’s Liaoning province, on May 6-7, marked his first confirmed international flight since assuming power, and he flew in on a Soviet-made long-range Ilyushin-62), he could presumably suggest an alternative venue.
So, if not Singapore – and it seems unlikely that Japan, Taiwan (both geopolitically sensitive) or the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be graced with the two leaders’ presence – where else in the Asia-Pacific region might the historic meeting take place?
At just over an hour’s flight time from Pyongyang, the sweeping boulevards of century-old buildings and beautiful oak woods that surround the Russian city could be a draw. Having held the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in September 2012, the city – closed to foreigners during Soviet times – has the infrastructure for such a meeting. With the future of thousands of North Korean labourers in Vladivostok threatened by stiffened United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang, the location would have added significance for Kim, and if any American president were to hold a major powwow in the home of the Russian Pacific fleet, it would be Vladimir Putin’s best bud Trump. However, as Vladivostok’s name loosely translates from the Russian as “ruler of the East”, Trump’s team could say, “Nyet.” Likelihood: 10%
Known for its picturesque, windswept scenery, quality seafood and several Unesco World Heritage Sites, the South Korean holiday island could perhaps do with the business, given the ban placed on Chinese package tours by Beijing last year, after Seoul decided to deploy a US-made weapons system (although many Jeju residents have since said they’re pleased tourist numbers are down and the resulting traffic jams and other pressures have eased). It should also be noted that, during the late 1940s and the Korean war (1950-53), Jeju was something of a hotbed of communist insurrection in South Korea. And traditionally it has been the South’s favoured honeymoon island. Have relationships thawed sufficiently for such a historic meeting to take place in South Korea? It seems unlikely. Likelihood: 15%
A summit amid the rice paddies of Ubud? Stranger things have happened. And while on the island, Potus could check out how things are progressing at Trump International Hotel & Tower. Trump Hotels’ first resort in Asia is mired in controversy, not least because, taking over the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort, which will be renovated, it overlooks the 16th-century Pura Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s most revered sea temples. Local mores insist that a building should not be taller than a coconut tree, and anything exceeding this height will anger the gods. Perhaps it is that anger that has kept Mount Agung stoked, the smoking volcano threatening to disrupt air traffic at a moment’s notice: a bad omen for any high-stakes summit. Likelihood: 15%
With Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson a big donor and Steve Wynn having made up and become “professional friends” with Trump, the Pres presumably has friends in Macau, although the city’s relationship with North Korea is more complicated. When all is said and done, though, these are high-stakes talks, and if Macau does anything well, it’s looking after the high rollers. What’s more, both Kim and Trump sometimes appear to be the planet’s most reckless gamblers, with “little rocket man” and the “mentally deranged US dotard” not so long ago calling each other’s bluff in a terrifying game of nuclear chicken. Likelihood: 15%
Second only to Singapore in a 2017 Asia-Pacific meetings destinations hot list, the Australian city may appeal to the Korean side as it was here, at the 2000 Olympics, that competitors from both sides of the border first appeared at a Games under the Korean Unification Flag. Trump may still be smarting, though: in the mid-1980s, a bid by Trump to build the city’s first casino, in the Darling Harbour recreational precinct, was rejected on police concerns about the businessman’s link to the mafia. The coppers surely would not have any objection to this new undertaking. Likelihood: 20%
Kim and Trump in the Great Hall of the People? It’s not hard to imagine. Trump venturing into the heart of the “enemy” as a trade war heats up between the US and China? You wouldn’t bet against it; the man is nothing if not unpredictable. A benefit for Kim would be that he could take his train rather than his plane. And let’s not forget that the Chinese make excellent kimchi – so much so that last year the South imported 275,000 tonnes of the fiery foodstuff, 99 per cent of it from China, and exported just 24,000 tonnes for a shocking “kimchi deficit” of the two Koreas’ national dish. Likelihood: 25%
Our money (only fantasy cash, admittedly) is on this tropical Philippines island, which is conveniently devoid of tourists at present due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent closure of the “cesspool”. There would certainly be plenty of accommodation for two entourages, and loads of empty white-powder sand and idling jetskis for when the suits and ties come off to celebrate the conclusion to successful talks. Some of the filth that so concerned Duterte may have been cleaned up by the time the summit commences and drills by Swat teams ahead of the ban’s implementation mean that the security side of things should be easy to arrange. The main drawback is that there’s no airport on Boracay; the sight of two high-power delegations lugging their suitcases through Caticlan Airport and clambering onto ferries is hard to imagine. Likelihood: 25%
So there you have it; perhaps the summit will take place in Singapore, after all. Maybe in Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands.