BEIJING - There is sincerity, desire and a willingness from both the United States and North Korea for peace on the Korean Peninsula, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Saturday (June 9) after a whirlwind five-day trip that saw him visit both Washington and Pyongyang.
Dr Balakrishnan, who met officials to tie down arrangements for the historic June 12 summit in Singapore, told Singapore reporters in Beijing that preparations were underway and it was “all systems go”.
“I have met both sides, I see sincerity on both sides, I see a desire, a willingness to escape the constraints that have applied for the last seven decades - so with goodwill and creativity let’s see what they come up with,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
Both sides, he said, were dealing with an “intractable problem” that posed significant risk to the world. The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
It is Singapore’s hope that there would be a breakthrough, because “if peace comes there will be a bountiful harvest, primarily within the Korean Peninsula, but indeed for all the rest of us including Singapore as well”.
Dr Balakrishnan, who arrived in Beijing on Saturday morning from Pyongyang, was en-route home to Singapore, where both US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are due to meet next week.
Elaborating on his visits to the US and North Korea, Dr Balakrishnan said: “Basically I went there to make sure everything was spick and span, and in place, and that there would be no last minute spoilers or difficulties.”
“Our role is to provide a conducive environment, a safe venue so the two sides can focus on the issues at hand, hopefully with all the goodwill that the rest of the world is focusing on them, they will have good news to announce to us after the summit,” he said.
He added that both countries expressed their appreciation to Singapore for its efforts, “especially for getting things ready in quite a short time, and the meticulous attention to detail”.
“I’m glad to say that as of now it’s all systems go, both the Americans as well as the North Koreans are pleased with the arrangements. We are all set to go and things will start happening within the next 24 hours,” he said.
Mr Trump has said one possible outcome of the summit is an agreement with North Korea to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
While the upcoming summit will strictly be between the US and North Korea, both sides say if and when they arrive at an agreement, they would have to involve other key stakeholders, said Dr Balakrishnan, without specifying these parties.
During his visit to Washington, he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton on Tuesday (June 5).
He arrived on Thursday in Pyongyang, where he held talks with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho and also met the country’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.
It was Dr Balakrishnan’s first visit to Pyongyang, and he told reporters that he came away “very impressed”, with the progress the city has made.
“If you go to Pyongyang today what you will see is a clean, green, modern, beautiful city,” he said, adding that it was clear the government has been upgrading the infrastructure.
Dr Balakrishnan was originally scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Friday, but ended up leaving a day later because a flight out of the country was cancelled. The additional time allowed him to visit an eye hospital and museums, and get a “better sense of the place”.
The hospital, he said, “had all the latest equipment”, comparable to what one would find in Singapore.
“The point I am making is despite these maximal sanctions, what you have is a society that has continued to invest in itself, continued to try to upgrade people and their skills, and the services that they provide to their people,” he said.
“Now can you imagine if peace finally comes and North Korea is allowed to open up to the world and gain access to technology, capabilities, skills and markets, I think the sky's the limit for their people.”
He also added that he had candid discussions with Mr Ri. While he declined to share details, he said that the North Koreans “also hope that there will be peace” and the country would gain access to the rest of the world.
“I think they also know that this is a magnificent opportunity for them,” he said.