SINGAPORE - Singapore will play its role to be a good host to the June 12 summit, and various agencies are working hard to make sure the historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un goes smoothly, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Singapore was singled out for thanks by both US Defence Secretary James Mattis and South Korea Defence Minister Song Young Moo during their speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (Jun 2), with Mr Mattis saying Singapore had "taken it all in their stride".
Mr Trump had only hours earlier confirmed that the June 12 summit was going ahead.
"Many have commented that without Singapore, we would not have progressed so far. I don't respond to these comments, I just take it as an affirmation of the work that our officials have done to get us this far," Dr Ng said in response to The Straits Times at a doorstop interview after he hosted a lunch for the defence ministers.
The defence chiefs discussed the North Korea and other security challenges at the lunch. Dr Ng said he asked for a show of hands about what the ministers thought of the upcoming talks.
"I asked them, despite all the caveats and some doubts, whether on balance this meeting between the US and DPRK was positive, and an overwhelming majority thought so," he said.
"It's a constructive and even a concrete step forward. Let's just hope and plan and if it takes place, let's hope for the best."
Dr Ng also confirmed that Singapore will bear the security cost of hosting the summit, adding: "It's a cost we're willing to bear to play a small part."
At the lunch, ministers also agreed that, for the region to progress, "rules must apply to all big and small, and that there are shared commonalities and dialogue was always better and dispute resolution by peaceful means was the way forward", said Dr Ng.
When asked if there was uneasiness at lunch between Mr Mattis and Lieutenant-General He Lei, the head of the Chinese delegation, after Mr Mattis' hardhitting speech on China's militarisation of the South China Sea, Dr Ng said: "We're all professionals."
"That's part of diplomacy. You can agree amicably and smile while you're disagreeing."
But Dr Ng said it is important for countries to state their views, since there is no pretence that there will be differing viewpoints on matters.
"But having stated the difference in views, the art of diplomacy is, from the differences where can you find the common ground or when you can't find common ground, where can you find a constructive part, the next step, to bring you to an agreement?"
Mr Mattis had taken China to task during his speech in the morning, accusing Beijing of "intimidation and coercion" of its neighbours over the disputed territorial waters in the South China Sea, and warned of "larger consequences" should China continue its strident stance.