WASHINGTON - Singapore’s hosting of next Tuesday’s Trump-Kim summit can be seen as its contribution to world peace and shows that it is trusted by both sides, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Washington.
Both the United States and North Korea trust that Singapore can be an honest, neutral moderator and host, said Dr Balakrishnan, who met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on a one-day working visit.
“It’s in a sense our contribution to world peace,” he told the Singapore media. “I’m confident we will do our best as hosts. I tell both the North Koreans and the Americans, we are there to serve tea and coffee,” he quipped.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the country's State Affairs Commission, are scheduled to meet at the Capella on Sentosa at 9am on June 12, in potentially one of the most significant geopolitical developments since the end of the Cold War.
“The fact that the summit is even occurring is significant in its own way,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “For the President of the United States to sit with the leader of North Korea across the table and to have all the issues laid out for them to have a frank discussion is a significant step."
He added: “Obviously what all of us are hoping for is it would lead to a de-escalation of tension, raise the prospects of peace, and for the sake of the North Koreans themselves improve the prospects for economic development.
“For North Korea they only need to look at China and at South-east Asia to see that peace is an essential prerequisite for prosperity, so let’s hope for the best but not have undue expectations.”
“I don’t think one meeting next week in Singapore can certainly unlock the entire situation on the Korean peninsula (but) if you can make a positive step it will be significant in its own right.”
It was the US that approached Singapore first, followed by North Korea, the minister said. The first prerequisite for both sides was security, followed by a venue and a setting that would send the appropriate signal.
“We’ve been able to have good discussions separately with both; I think it’s very important that we enjoy the trust and confidence of both parties, this ability to be an honest neutral moderator and host was absolutely crucial,” he added.
In his talks with Mr Pompeo and Mr Bolton, they had thanked Singapore and Singaporeans, Dr Balakrishnan said.
But the talks also covered US-Singapore relations and the minister had voiced Singapore’s concern over the prospect of trade wars.
The US has slapped tariffs on a range of imports from rivals and allies alike, triggering tension and retaliatory measures - the latest from Mexico whose punitive tariffs on American pork took effect on Tuesday, spawning worry among American pork producers.
“Clearly from Singapore’s perspective we hope it will not be a full blown trade war because it will inevitably affect us,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “Singapore is a place where our trade is three times our GDP and any disruption to world trade will be a problem for us; I made that point as strongly as I could."
“I understand why America is taking this position, taking this line,” he said. “On the other side… this recipe for free trade and closer economic integration has been a formula for peace and prosperity across the world and particularly in South-east Asia for the last 70 years.
“We think even when there are disputes we prefer they be resolved through multilateral institutions and multilateral processes. We are not in favour of unilateral measures, (and) we certainly don’t want trade wars."
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at Dr Balakrishnan’s meetings with Mr Pompeo and Mr Bolton, both sides “reaffirmed the excellent and longstanding ties between Singapore and the US across the defence, economic and security spheres”.
“Secretary Pompeo and (National Security Adviser) Bolton expressed support for Singapore’s Chairmanship of Asean this year and discussed ways in which the United States could deepen its enduring strategic and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific and strengthen its multi-faceted engagement of the region,” the statement said.
In his remarks to the Singapore media, Dr Balakrishnan said: “I look forward to working with (Mr Bolton) and with Mike Pompeo to keep America engaged in our region and to keep our trade, defence and economic links vibrant and strong."
“Now as we have a digital revolution with jobs and economies transformed I think this linkage with America is all the more important,” he added. “We’ve got to keep the people-to-people links, the academic links, the business links; that’s how you get an economy firing on all cylinders."
“The fact that the American economy is doing well, that unemployment is very low, all this speaks to great potential for further economic fruits to be harvested in the years to come. I’m positive about this relationship."