Why Singapore for Trump-Kim summit? White House says neutrality and security clinched it

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Singapore was chosen because it could ensure the security of both leaders and provide neutrality. PHOTO: ST FILE

WASHINGTON - Singapore was chosen as the site for next month's summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because of its neutrality and security, the White House's principal deputy press secretary Mr Raj Shah told journalists on Thursday (May 10).

"Singapore has a relationship with both the United States and North Korea," Mr Shah told journalists aboard Air Force One that was taking President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence to Indiana. Both men are to hold a rally for supporters in South Bend, Indiana.

"They can be ensured - to ensure both the President's security and Kim Jong Un's security, as well as provide neutrality."

"Singaporeans have been gracious up until now and also in the past," he said. "In fact, on a historical note, the first meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan took place in Singapore some years back."

In 2015, the city state played host to a historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and then-Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou.

As of now, the June 12 summit would be a one-day affair, he said.

"Right now, we're still planning out a lot more of the details. So I don't want to get ahead of anything more specific," he said.

When asked what the President meant when he said on Thursday that the summit could be scuttled, Mr Shah said: "Well, we have over a month. Right? We have a month and several days. And there are a number of things - provocative actions, for example, from North Korea would not be received well."

"I don't want to offer hypotheticals. All I'll say is that this meeting has been agreed to, but obviously it could be halted for any number of reasons."

When asked about expectations of the summit, he said: "Our policy is to ensure the complete, irreversible, and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. And that's what (the President) is going to be seeking."

"I'm not going to get ahead of the negotiations, but that is our… stated goal. It has long been a US policy in this administration, and it will continue to be. And we'll see what happens going forward between now and June 12."

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the North's state-controlled media on Friday kept mum about the date and location of the Trump-Kim meeting.

Separately, analysts were sanguine about the choice of Singapore.

Mr Will Saetren, Research Associate at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington DC, said: "The DMZ already had a historic summit. The optics a second time round would not have been so punchy. And President Trump going there would play into North Korea's propaganda machine - that the American President is coming to us.

"Singapore is a logical choice, it avoids those problems. It has diplomatic relations with North Korea and the US also has a big embassy there. And it's a nice place, the optics will be good."

Mr Ernie Bower, CEO of the consultancy BowerGroupAsia, wrote in an e-mail:"The choice of Singapore was very well balanced and is strategic. Being far away from Korea, Japan and China, Mr Trump could have the full spotlight, and take credit if things go well.

"Singapore is the ideal spot for the Trump-Kim summit because it underlines Asean's centrality at the core of developing Indo-Pacific architecture to promote peace and security.

"Singapore is the chair of Asean this year, and by working to resolve Asia's hardest security challenges in Asean, the White House and Kim Jong Un are perhaps unwittingly making an important symbolic investment in the future."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.