Ties With US, N. Korea Make Singapore an Optimum Summit Site


SINGAPORE (AP) — With the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula out of contention, the small nation of Singapore is a natural choice for the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, analysts say.

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

Singapore is familiar ground for North Korea, and the two countries have had diplomatic relations since 1975. The reclusive communist country has its embassy in Singapore’s central business district.

The city is “a great location” for the summit, said Tom Plant, who specializes 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’s security forces have considerable experience in protecting VIPs. Single-party rule since independence in 1965 has ensured stability and fostered a security state that is among the world’s most efficient, though sometimes decried by civil libertarians as repressive. Located between two Muslim majority nations — Malaysia and Indonesia — with Islamic State group sympathizers, it has effectively checked terrorist threats.

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 U.S. and a leaked U.N. report, officially cut off trade relations with North Korea in 2017 to abide by international sanctions.

“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.

Distance may also be a consideration. Singapore is located just over 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) from North Korea, comfortably within the flying range of its aircraft. Getting 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.

Singapore is also 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.

The country is also the regional headquarters of large U.S. companies including Google, Facebook and Airbnb. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1966.

It is a regional hub whose free enterprise philosophy welcomes trading partners from everywhere, regardless of politics.

“Singapore is an ideal site for the summit because Singapore historically has been an honest broker between East and West. Singapore has been a great friend to the U.S. but also Singapore has carefully worked to be a friend to all, which has earned it trust in capitals around the world,” former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country is pleased to host the summit. “We hope this meeting will advance prospects for peace in the Korean Peninsula,” it said in a statement.

Singapore has experience hosting such meetings. In 2015 it was the site of another unprecedented summit between two leaders burdened with a legacy of bad blood and 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.

The city-state has hosted a number of high-level regional meetings, including Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits in 2007 and 2018. Since 2002, an annual security conference has been held there, featuring defense chiefs and officials from countries including the U.S., China and South Korea.

Roadblocks are set up around the summit venues, where armed Nepalese Gurkhas stand guard. Police check every vehicle that enters the area.

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 misadventure 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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