Not easy to make sudden breakthrough, but Trump-Kim summit is first step to resuming dialogue: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with American journalist Tom Plate.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with American journalist Tom Plate.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - It will not be easy to make a sudden breakthrough at the historic meeting between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

However, this is "the first step towards both sides resuming a dialogue", added Mr Lee in an interview with veteran American journalist Tom Plate, who authored Conversations With Lee Kuan Yew in the Giants Of Asia series.

In his remarks on the impending Trump-Kim Summit, Mr Lee said the US and North Korea have "a very difficult task" at hand.

"This summit is taking place at not very long notice, and without... extensive preparation or contact between both sides," noted the Prime Minister, whose comments were published in a column in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post on Monday (June 4).

Last Friday, Mr Trump told reporters as well that the June 12 summit may not immediately yield an agreement, although he said that "we are going to deal, and we are really going to start a process".

On why Singapore was chosen as a venue, Mr Lee said that this shows the Republic is friends with both parties, and that they believe it can do a good job of hosting the summit.

It is also "politically acceptable to them to be here", he added.


Mr Lee also gave his view on the outlook for US-China relations in his latest interview.

Asked if the US relationship with China is going to swing back and forth, as in the past, or whether a fundamental cleavage is starting to push both countries apart, Mr Lee said "it does not have to go that way".

"But from the trade frictions, it can easily develop into a wider mistrust," he cautioned. "Because now, it is not just trade, exchange or currency exchange rates, but you are also blocking their investments, more than before."

"If you do not want to run a trade deficit with them, yet you do not want to sell them what they want to buy - either companies or strategic goods - then what is the outcome?" he asked.

He noted that even as the Trump administration initiated trade sanctions on China, his sense is that the move "actually has quite wide support in the US".

"Even (New York Times columnist) Thomas Friedman feels so," Mr Lee said, noting that he is not a natural hawk. "So there are people who do not have a lot of time for the Trump administration, who agree with him on this matter."

Asked by Mr Plate if he buys the argument that eccentric American leadership can make the Chinese look more cosmopolitan, he added that some Chinese think so, finding it a strategic opportunity for China as long as Mr Trump is President.

While China is thinking strategically, said Mr Lee, "I am not sure whether America is thinking strategically about its relationship with China, or its role in the wider world".

He believes that binary thinking in international relations is a double-edged sword. "Do you conclude that the Chinese have to be like you, in order to be your friend? Or do you conclude that they do not have to be like you, yet you can still do business with them?"

He hopes that Americans can come to the second conclusion, as "it is not necessary for you to be enemies just because you are different from them".

"They do not think less of you just because you do not have a Communist Party of the United States," he said.