Sum­mit shines Sin­ga­pore’s diplo­macy

Seoul needs to take lessons to strengthen global sta­tus

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Kim Jae-ky­oung kjk@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

SINGAORE — Sin­ga­pore is a tiny but strong na­tion.

The strength comes from two el­e­ments — a sense of ur­gency and prac­ti­cal diplo­macy.

The city-state al­ways tries to re­main vig­i­lant and pre­pare for the fu­ture while build­ing friendly diplo­matic ties with all pos­si­ble coun­tries. It is al­ways heav­ily neu­tral in all po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

Sim­ply speak­ing, its num­ber one diplo­matic strat­egy is “be­ing neu­tral and mak­ing no en­e­mies.” That’s why it has main­tained diplo­matic re­la­tions with both Koreas for a long time.

The strate­gic ap­proach was well ex­em­pli­fied in the June 12 his­toric sum­mit be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Capella Ho­tel on the re­sort is­land of Sen­tosa.

It is offering use­ful wis­dom for South Korea, which is al­ways strug­gling to strike a bal­ance among the four great pow­ers sur­round­ing the Korean Penin­sula, namely the U.S, Ja­pan, China and Rus­sia.

“As a small city-state, Sin­ga­pore is most cer­tainly not a great power,” Liang Tuang Nah, a re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute of De­fense and Strate­gic Stud­ies in Sin­ga­pore, told The Korea Times.

“Hence, it has to adopt pru­dent for­eign poli­cies and one of these is be­ing friendly to as many na­tions as pos­si­ble,” he added.

From his per­spec­tive, ac­cept­ing the duty of be­ing the host of the Trump-Kim sum­mit is a de­ci­sion which is com­pat­i­ble with such a for­eign pol­icy ap­proach.

“Ar­guably, the in­ten­tion is to max­i­mize Sin­ga­pore’s use­ful­ness to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” he said.

South Korea and Sin­ga­pore both used to be touted as mem­bers of the four Asian tiger na­tions but have been walking on di­ver­gent paths since 2000.

Sin­ga­pore has so­lid­i­fied its po­si­tion as one of the most at­trac­tive in­ter­na­tional cities in the world as a fi­nan­cial and diplo­matic pow­er­house.

In con­trast, South Korea has failed to achieve its vi­sion to turn Seoul into an in­ter­na­tional hub city in North­east Asia due to the govern­ment’s do­mes­tic-fo­cused mind­set and old-fash­ion diplo­matic strat­egy.

“The de­ci­sion to hold what could be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant meet­ings in Korean his­tory in Sin­ga­pore is a tes­ta­ment to the re­mark­able diplo­matic sig­nif­i­cance of the ‘lit­tle red dot,’” said Suh Chung-ha, for­mer Korean Am­bas­sador to Sin­ga­pore.

Suh, cur­rently pres­i­dent of the Jeju Peace In­sti­tute, pointed out that the city state now added another ser­vice to its dis­tin­guished port­fo­lio, “diplo­matic host.”

“Sin­ga­pore’s skill­ful bal­anc­ing among the re­gion’s ma­jor pow­ers has helped pro­mote its se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity, not to men­tion its rep­u­ta­tion as a lead­ing player in re­gional diplo­macy and made it an ac­cept­able host for both the U.S. and North Korea,” he said.

The is­land na­tion’s seam­less ef­forts to host mega-scale in­ter­na­tional events are another big fac­tor that many lead­ers chose Sin­ga­pore as a meet­ing place.

It hosts lots of in­ter­na­tional events ev­ery year, in­clud­ing the Shangri-La Di­a­logue and F1 Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix, and its ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence has made the city-state rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tion­ally as a safe, se­cure place to meet.

“We have had ex­pe­ri­ence host­ing ma­jor sum­mits be­fore, in­clud­ing be­tween Xi Jin­ping and Ma Ying-jeou. Even so, this (Trump-Kim sum­mit) is cer­tainly the big­gest we have ever hosted,” said Joseph Liow Chin Yong, dean of The S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (RSIS) in Sin­ga­pore.

“It is good pub­lic­ity for Sin­ga­pore, and recog­ni­tion of our stand­ing in the world of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and diplo­macy, as well as the city-state’s abil­ity to pro­vide safety and se­cu­rity, which is a ma­jor pri­or­ity for this sum­mit.”

What is no­table is that Sin­ga­pore’s strate­gic mind­set is pro­nounced from the state leader to or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

At a meet­ing with re­porters ahead of the sum­mit, Sin­ga­pore Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong said that the city-state is willing to foot some of the bills for the sum­mit, which he es­ti­mated cost up to $16 mil­lion. “It is a cost we are willing to pay,” he said.

Zach Wen, a lo­cal restau­rant owner, agreed with PM Lee.

"As a Sin­ga­porean, I don’t mind if our govern­ment pays some of the costs for the his­toric sum­mit,” he said.

"This is a good op­por­tu­nity to show that Sin­ga­pore is a small na­tion but with a big heart.”

James Bin­de­nagel, the Henry Kissinger Pro­fes­sor for Gov­er­nance and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity at Rheinis­che Friedrich-Wil­helms Univer­sity in Bonn, Ger­many, be­lieves that state lead­er­ship has played a cru­cial role in Sin­ga­pore be­com­ing a neu­tral meet­ing ground.

Yon­hap

Sin­ga­pore’s Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be­fore bi­lat­eral talks at Is­tana, the Sin­ga­porean Pres­i­dent’s official res­i­dence, on June 10.

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