Trump-Kim summit: Kim Jong Un wants to go on to a new path, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour on June 11, 2018. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to forge a new path, and that is why he is meeting United States President Donald Trump for a historic summit on Tuesday (June 12), said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who met Mr Kim for the first time at the Istana on Sunday, where they discussed recent positive developments on the Korean peninsula, among other matters.

Asked for his take on his meeting with Mr Kim by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour in an interview ahead of the summit, Mr Lee said: "I think (Kim Jong Un) wants to go on to a new path. What he is prepared to deal, and how the agreement can be worked out - well that is a complicated matter.

"I think he has an intention to do something, and that is why he is meeting Donald Trump."

A day after meeting Mr Kim, Mr Lee held a one-on-one meeting with Mr Trump before they sat down to a working lunch with the Singapore and US delegations.

Asked what Mr Trump said about his expectations for the summit, Mr Lee replied that the US President did not say very much, as his officials are still in negotiations with the North Koreans.

"But I think he is looking for a positive outcome and the key thing is he needs to assess whether Mr Kim is serious or not. If he is serious, I think something can be worked out," Mr Lee said.

"But if you assess that the other side is not serious, well then you don't have a basis to start. That is an assessment which I think both sides will have to talk it out."

The prime minister noted that both sides may not have the same objectives, but if both are serious about wanting some kind of deal, then the question is whether they are prepared to have give-and-take.

"Something can be worked out if you really want to come to an outcome," he said.

According to a schedule released by the White House on Monday night, Mr Trump will meet Mr Kim one-on-one, with translators only, for 45 minutes at the Capella Singapore in Sentosa from 9.15am on Tuesday. This will be followed by an expanded bilateral meeting and a working lunch.

On why Singapore was chosen to host the summit, Mr Lee said he did not know how the decision was made.

"We know that they were looking at possibilities and they sounded us out. We said, well, if you think we can be a good venue, we are prepared to step up, and we will be helpful," he said.

"Then we did not hear anything more for a while. After some time, they narrowed it down and eventually they said, 'Yes, we would like to come to Singapore'. So we started preparing. Then the summit was off, but we did not call off our preparations, and the summit is on again, and we think we will be prepared by the time it happens."

Asked how important it was for Singapore to be hosting the summit, Mr Lee said: "We hope that by providing a venue which is neutral, which is agreeable to both sides, we enable a productive summit to take place which will turn around the negative trend of events in Korea over the last few months and set Korea on to a new and positive trajectory - for them and for the world."

Mr Lee also gave his views on US foreign policy under Mr Trump, which has seen America turning its back on the global order it helped impose and threatening a trade war with China as well as its allies.

Asked about which Donald Trump he had been prepared to meet on Monday, in the wake of Mr Trump's clash with his allies at the G7 summit last weekend, Mr Lee said: "I think it is the same Donald Trump whom I have met on previous occasions.

"He speaks his mind... he has his very firmly-held views on trade, on the way America is being taken advantage of, and the way he wants to make America great again."

As to whether the US is being taken advantage of, Mr Lee recounted how America took a generous approach after World War II with the Marshall Plan in Europe, and maintained peace in the Asia Pacific to allow other countries to prosper, so it in turn could benefit from a stable and prosperous world.

But today, the US has a much smaller share of the world economy and some are asking if it is still sensible to uphold a system so that everyone can benefit from it, Mr Lee added.

Asking how to rebalance the benefits so the US can gain more is a legitimate question, he said.

"But to abandon the whole system, and say, I am now going to go, win-lose, item by item, and I want to win every single match but I really do not have the overall view of the global game. That is a very different kind of world which America will find themselves in, if it goes that way, over several terms of the presidency."

Ms Amanpour also asked Mr Lee if Singapore could open up more in terms of free speech, saying there is a "pretty strict internal logic" here.

Responding, Mr Lee said: "What you really mean is: why are we so repressive? The answer is we are not. Why is the political scene like that? Because that is the way Singaporeans have voted and it is an outcome of the elections.

"When does it change? It changes when the Singaporean electorate decides that this Government is not serving their interests, ceases to support this PAP (People's Action Party) team, and perhaps hopefully supports another team which will serve them better. And then it will be a different scene."

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