Singapore will be the site of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and the leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un. This city-state of more than 5 million people has hosted events of comparable rank. Singapore portrays itself as an “honest broker” in difficult relations between parties in conflict.
Singapore, a stable and effectively managed state, guarantees the security and neutrality of high-level meetings. Due to its political system—a sort of soft authoritarianism—public protests during the meeting are highly unlikely. Both the U.S. and North Korea maintain diplomatic relations with Singapore. The country provides logistical support for the U.S. Navy in South East Asia, has a free-trade agreement with the U.S., and both countries are strategic partners. While, North Korea has an embassy in Singapore, Singapore has an ambassador to North Korea accredited in Beijing. Also, Singaporean companies are involved in North Korea, and the NGO Choson Exchange, based in Singapore, organises entrepreneurship training for Koreans from the North.
Apart from Singapore, other locations were considered in Europe—Geneva, Stockholm, Warsaw—and Asia—Vladivostok, Beijing, Ulaanbator, Panmunjom. Logistics was the most important factor for North Korea. Singapore is 4,700 km away, which means it is within the reach of the North Korean air fleet, whose technical condition is dubious. For these reasons, the European locations favoured by the U.S. were eliminated from consideration. Other Asian locations, although acceptable to the North, were problematic for the U.S., mainly for political reasons. Allowing China or Russia to host the summit, and in that sense to score a diplomatic victory, is not in the current U.S. interest. In the case of Mongolia, this country has no experience hosting such high-level meetings. While the next summit, planned for Panmunjom may strengthen the North’s international position.
Singapore is trying to use complicated international crises to strengthen its political position. A good example of its approach was a meeting in the city-state in November 2015 between the incumbent president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. This year, Singapore is emphasising its role as an honest broker particularly because the country chairs ASEAN. Since 2002, Singapore has hosted an intergovernmental security conference: the Shangri-La Dialogue. The next edition will take place in June. In 2018, Singapore will also host the ASEAN Regional Forum. Being an “honest broker” brings tangible benefits to a country. Even though Singapore is not a G20 member, it has participated in the summits for several years now. The country is a member of the informal Global Governance Group, which gathers small- and medium-sized countries. Singapore also plans to attend this year’s G20 summit in Argentina.