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North Korea

Why Kim Jong-un may not want to meet Donald Trump in Singapore

While the Lion City may be Washington’s preferred choice for the groundbreaking meeting, the North Korean leader is believed to want to stay closer to home

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2018, 12:20am

Kim Jong-un may be reluctant to travel to Singapore for his proposed summit meeting with Donald Trump, analysts said, citing a range of factors including North Korea’s distant relations with the city state and Kim’s reluctance to travel by air.

Following Friday’s historic sessions between North and South Korea, the focus will shift to the proposed landmark summit, the first time a sitting US president will have met the Communist state’s leader. 

It is widely believed that back-channel talks have been under way in preparation for the meetings, which the White House has indicated will happen in May or June.

Citing government sources, South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo reported on Wednesday that Singapore and Mongolia had made the shortlist of possible locations, adding that neutral European countries like Sweden and Switzerland were unlikely to be selected given the distance and security concerns. 

Wang Sheng, a professor of Korean affairs at Jilin University in northeastern China, said that the agenda and location of the Trump-Kim meeting may have been among the topics discussed at Friday’s inter-Korea summit.  

“The US could find Singapore a good location for the meeting because it perceives that it has been siding more with them on North Korean issues,” Wang added. 

“The perception of Singapore’s place in the international community would also make it suitable.”

Lim Tai Wei, an adjunct research fellow at East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore, said that the city state, where both Pyongyang and Washington have embassies, had many advantages.

“Singapore is a neutral venue. It has hosted other important talks that required neutral and objective venues as well,” Lim said.

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He was referring to the first summit between two non-governmental organisations from Beijing and Taipei in 1993, as well as the 2015 summit between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, then Taiwan’s president, the first meeting between leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait since the end of China’s civil war.

As an air-travel hub, Singapore would “certainly give good treatment to Air Force One and North Korea’s Soviet-era private jets,” Lim added.

But Wang said that Mongolia may be closer to Pyongyang’s expectations, since the Kim family has always preferred to travel by train and the North Korean leader could reach the country more easily by rail.

“Going to Mongolia would match the expectations of the North Korea government more closely because Mongolia has experience in dealing with issues relating to North Korea,” Wang said.

It is believed that the Kim family’s preference for rail is security-related – although Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather, is known to have flown to Eastern Europe. 

His son, Kim Jong-il, only used rail for foreign visits – seven to China and two to Russia – and for his first overseas visit as leader, his grandson also took the train last month to Beijing.

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Lu Chao, a Korean affairs expert at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in northeastern China, said: “Singapore is unlikely [to be the venue] because its relations with Pyongyang are not even close. 

“Singapore is definitely somewhere the US wants, but I don’t think North Korea will support the idea.”

Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or even somewhere close to the border would also be “a convenient choice” for Kim, Lu said, given the location and his recent rapprochement with Beijing. 

Lu said that while flying may not be a problem for Kim, “why bother to fly if another place is appropriate?”

In an interview on Thursday, Trump told Fox News that three or four possible dates and five locations were being considered, without giving any details.