trump-kim jong un

Photo courtesy of CNN

As the world watches, especially Singaporeans, all agog at the global politician-celebrities, until now up close and personal only on television and the internet, we risk missing what a defining moment this is for Singapore and the regional geo-politics.

This is the first time, a sitting US President, (June 12th 2018), will meet his North Korean counterpart in over half a century. But how will this global event impact Singapore and the ASEAN grouping?

Immediately, however, the questions that dominate are: What will President Trump do and how will he react to Chairman Kim? What does this mean for on-going relations between the US and North Korea? How jittery are China, Russia and Japan the other geo-political players in the mix? What will we see from Trump’s Twitter account?

Questions, questions and more questions. This is historical and defining; as what happens during and more importantly afterward, courtesy of Trump’s Twitter account, will dictate what happens in the foreign policy halls in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo.

Based on how Trump’s “get to know you” meeting goes with Kim, foreign policy decisions will be defined and re-vamped.

More importantly, how will the US public and politicians view their President and respond to future policy decisions. Having just “ranted” at the G7 summit, Trump is on a hiding to nothing with international trade relations and foreign policy. So he probably needs a good outcome, a game-changing result in Singapore. Who knows what is going on?

Chairman Kim, on the other hand, has been playing this masterfully. He has done the rounds with China’s Premier Xi, South Korean President Moon, the Russian Foreign Tzar, Sergey Lavarov and even Bashar Al-Assad from Syria in the last six months!

Everyone wants a photo opportunity with the country that seems to be ready to open up and allow in foreign investments – could this be a play for the next “Marshall Plan”? Again who knows how strategic minds work.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo! News Singapore

But what is in it for Singapore? The country is US$15million out of pocket. Scores of Singaporeans are inconvenienced but still, a majority are enjoying the media attention and circus. What good does this do for this tiny city-state, at the end of Peninsula Malaysia?

This summit, rather fortuitously landed on Singapore’s lap. It was a toss-up between Singapore and Ulaan Baatar (Mongolia). Having landed this gig, Singapore has made the most of it. Streets have always been achingly clean, but we have taken cleanliness, order, and obedience to even greater heights.

Signs encouraging common folks to “Comply with Police Orders” do not raise any eyebrows, as ordinary Singaporeans and compliant visitors go about their business.

The country has achieved its position on the world map (although not according to the US State Department). A few more people now realise its actually not that close to China or Korea; nor is it really in the Far East. In fact, according to images, photographs, and other graphics, Singapore is not really a backwater village where one needs a machete to cut through the bush but a highly developed global financial, logistics, technology, and biotech hub serving over 640 million people in the Southeast Asian region. It is a gateway between China, Japan, Korea and the “Far East” and the Middle East, the Indian Sub-continent and the rest of Australasia.

A well educated, digitally savvy and westernized society combines the best of the East and the West, where businesses are encouraged to prosper and establish regional headquarters to expand into the region. A business-friendly, legal, financial and talent environment has propelled the tiny city-state into a world-class, first world economy that is definitely punching above its weight.

About eight years ago, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, described the challenge facing Singapore as an existential one, with the country needing to re-define its value to its neighbours, its partners, and friends. He suggested that no longer would hard economic power alone or being able to manufacture goods and provide services on the cheap will be enough, but being able to think ahead, strategically and extend ourselves to connect through humanitarian, global and ethical platforms would fuel the next generation growth. He called it “Soft Power”.

I see this summit as an extension of that “Soft Power” – much like some of the Scandinavian and European countries have done in brokering peace and helping to build bridges. Singapore as it enters its next 50 years, must build its own identity.

With turmoil, political change abound, where neighbouring ASEAN countries are grappling with their very own existential issues including preserving the basic human rights, rule of law, democracy, eradicating systemic corruption and extrajudicial action, Singapore needs to partner with the rest of ASEAN and stand firm; help our fellow ASEAN economies gain the profile and build a platform for future success and global leadership.


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