United States President Donald Trump has confirmed that he will meet North Korean President Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on June 12th. Pyongyang recently released three American citizens detained in North Korea in what was viewed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the Trump-Kim summit.
The relationship between the US and North Korea has always been fractious. During the war between North and South Korea in 1950, US forces successfully intervened on behalf of South Korea. To this day, there are 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK). Read more on the history of the peninsula here.
The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. North Korea has remained an isolated nation and its nuclear program has especially been a concern for the international community. In 2017, North Korea launched 23 missiles over the course of 16 tests. In November, North Korea tested its most potent missile yet. The Hwasong-15 missile reached an unprecedented height of almost 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles).
US President Trump has taken an aggressive stance while countering North Korea. Both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump were locked in an extended war of words in 2017. Trump said that North Korea “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded by announcing that plans were underway for it to strike Guam, a US territory.
However, since the beginning of 2018, global tensions with the isolated state began to ease. Pyongyang has indicated that it is willing to re-establish diplomatic ties with the outside world, beginning with the Pyeongchang Olympics, which were hailed as the “Peace Olympics”. In April, US officials confirmed that then-CIA director Mike Pompeo had visited Kim Jong-Un in a top-secret meeting over Easter. On April 27th, North and South Korean leaders Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In held a historic summit, the first in over a decade. The two nations announced that they have agreed to end the 60-year Korean War, and signed the Panmunjom Declaration which agreed to denuclearise North Korea. Read more on the meeting here.
“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” US President Trump wrote on Twitter. Trump, who has previously called North Korean leader a “madman”, has notably changed his stance on Kim, referring to him as “very honourable” in April this year.
“Our policy is to ensure the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. And that’s what he’s going to be seeking,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters. Shah added that Singapore had been chosen as the location for the historic meet as it can “provide neutrality”.
Singapore is on good terms with both Pyongyang and Washington. It is one of the few nations with a North Korean embassy. Singapore established relations with North Korea in 1975, and was business partners with the isolated nation until 2016. Some analysts have speculated that North Korea’s old-fashioned airplanes would not be able to handle a longer journey to more traditional diplomatic locations such as Switzerland.
Singapore is also a strategic partner of the United States. The two countries signed an enhanced security agreement in 2015, and the US Navy stations some of its combat ships at Changi naval base. Furthermore, the South-East Asian country has historic significance. It was the chosen location for talks between the leaders of China and Taiwan in November 2015. This was a momentous occasion as it was the first meeting between the leaders of Beijing and Taipei since the civil war had ended almost 70 years earlier.
“The most appealing thing about Singapore is that it is a politically neutral place. It has been a preferred location for top political meetings for various reasons including security,” said Sejong Institute researcher Paik Hak-soon. “Kim obviously would have preferred Pyongyang or Beijing, but Trump must have wanted to avoid the impression that he was yielding too much even before the summit.”
Victoria Coates, Senior Director for International Negotiations at the National Security Council noted that the meeting could still be scrapped if Pyongyang does something “unacceptable” leading up to the summit.
Our assessment is that Singapore was chosen as the location for the summit as it will allow both leaders to meet on equal footing. A meeting in Singapore rather than the US or North Korea, could also allow for international observers such as Seoul or Beijing. As stated previously, Pyongyang is in pursuit of being recognised as a responsible stakeholder in the comity of nations. Such a possibility would evolve if they are able to successfully engage the United States this June.