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North Korea

Singapore right for high-stakes summit

Experience and neutrality count where sensitive matters are concerned, and the island state will host talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 4:56am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 4:56am

The choice of Singapore for the June 12 summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is understandable.

Experience and neutrality count where so sensitive a matter is concerned and the island state has won out over other suggested venues, Panmunjom and Ulan Bator among them. In doing so, it has scored a diplomatic coup.

It is to be hoped the setting and circumstances are right so that a deal leading to lasting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula can be reached.

A deal in part depends on the location. Singapore is neutral ground; the Korean truce border village of Panmunjom, where Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held their breakthrough summit last month, is not.

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Security and privacy are critical and Singapore has a proven track record of effectively and safely hosting high-level diplomatic gatherings. It is home to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s leading security conference that draws government leaders and defence chiefs.

Significantly, the city was chosen by President Xi Jinping for his historic meeting in November 2015 with then Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou.

The shroud of secrecy over proceedings proved how adept Singapore is at handling sensitive issues.

But the nation also hosted the first high-level cross-strait meeting after 1949, when mainland representative Wang Daohan and Taiwan’s Koo Chen-fu held a first round of talks in 1993. Late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew played a critical role in mediation.

Singapore is also attractive for having good, long-standing, relations with the United States and North Korea.

The North has an embassy there, one of just 47 in the world; the nations forged ties in 1975. Washington has half a century of relations and the US Navy stations some of its combat vessels at the city’s naval base.

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For Kim, there is also the possibility of being able to fly non-stop from Pyongyang; his personal jet has just enough range to make the 5,000km trip.

A specific venue in Singapore has yet to be named. The Shangri-La Hotel, the island resort of Sentosa and Marina Bay have been suggested. The latter two have casinos – but it is to be hoped that whichever is chosen, the odds of a breakthrough are high.