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Trump-Kim summit shows Singapore's definitive rise as a foreign policy bellwether in the world

By Vijay Dwivedi

After my day's work, I had reached Ci Yan, a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown of Singapore. The modest family-run restaurant is known for its no-fuss vegan food. The lady owner of the shop was unusually chirpy and was finding it hard to hide her excitement.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Noticing my curiosity, she pointed her frail aging fingers to television which was beaming Trumps' press conference. The success of US, North Korea summit was known as soon as the media started showing the image of two leaders smiling and shaking hands after months of acrimonious exchanges. After ordering my meal of brown rice, I started watching television.

In a no holds barred presser, Trump answered all the question related to the summit and in his now hallmark style, traded few blows towards G7 leaders across the Mediterranean.

In the meantime, the septuagenarian owner of the restaurant walked in. Uncle, as I usually address him, was vivacious and made it more than evident that he is thrilled that such a landmark truce in Korean peninsula has been reached in the city of Singapore.

I finished my early evening meal and walked towards the public transport interchange only to realize that I was in that part of Singapore which had a significant Korean population. The entire stretch was dotted with Korean restaurant. And each restaurant had a poster with wishes for a successful summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un.

There was a lot at stack for the Korean diaspora who for seven decades had lived in fear of war in the Korean peninsula. The excitement of the summit started to build in the city-nation Singapore almost a week before the summit. The best ambassadors of the city are its fantastic cab drivers.

Nearly all of them informed proudly about the summit in Singapore and filled me with relevant tidbits. The US -North Korea conversations could not have come at a better time for Singapore as it assumes the rotational chair of ASEAN start of this year. Though Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un got tremendous applause for the successful summit, it is Singapore, its leadership and its exemplary foreign policy which formed the base for this pathbreaking outcome.

Singapore was a natural choice for the summit due to its geography, the historicity of its relationship with both the participating countries and Singapore's relation with crucial stakeholders in the region like Japan and China.

In the run-up to the summit, Singapore managed an unprecedented arrangement wherein various agencies came together to ensure the unparalleled security for President Trump and Chairman Kin Jong-un.

Along with delegates of the summit and the entourage of the two leaders, more than 3000 journalists from across the world condensed on the island city. Despite remaining neutral to the outcome of the summit, Singapore spent 20 Million US Dollar for the complete arrangement which included taking care of North Korean leader and his entourage stay expenses.

The dynamic foreign minister of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan made back-to-back trips to Washington and Pyongyang to iron out creases if any in the whole preparation of the mega-summit. The leader from North Korea was to embark on his most extended trip away from home and reportedly had concerns about his security.

Vivian Balakrishnan must have spent significant effort in alleviating these concerns. Once the stage for the summit was set, Singapore, unlike many countries in Nordic, showed no obsession about being a party to the negotiation and left it eventually to both the states.

After Kim Jong-un landed in the city of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan received him at the Changi Airport. Due to security considerations, initially, it was conjectured that the North Korean leader would either descend on Seletar or Paya Lebar airport. But to the surprise of all, Changi airport was chosen for the arrival of the North Korean leader. Changi airport is known to be one of the best airports in the world and is also known as a destination by itself. Choice of Changi may have been to expose the Korean leadership to a newly emerging world and its possibilities.

The day before the summit with president Trump, Chairman Kim Jong-un ventured into one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, Gardens by the Bay. Here again, foreign minister of Singapore was with the Korean leader. By some assessment, these visits were also to introduce awe and aspiration in the Chairman Kim's mind.

A peaceful Korean peninsula, an open economy can open a world of possibilities for an economically isolated North Korea. Though early days, this may overhaul the geopolitics of the entire region. The success of the Singapore summit firmly establishes the country's diplomatic corps as one of the most successful on the planet.

Singapore's foreign policy has been significantly influenced by its first foreign minister S Rajaratnam and country's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. The tenfold principles of its foreign policy have remained almost consistent through the five decades. The island country spells in its doctrine that being a small nation has no delusion of its grandeur.

It also continues to strive for good relations with all its neighbor. It has diplomatic ties with 189 countries. Singapore's connect with North Korea dates to 1975 and Singapore is one of the few countries where Pyongyang maintains an embassy.

Ministry of Foreign affairs career is one of the cherished jobs amongst the youngsters and the university grads. The nation as it stands today in the world of diplomacy has evolved through some trying times in past five decades and has taken a stand which has remained consistent with its core principles. Things have not been easy for Singapore. It is a small country surrounded by two prominent and influential countries Malaysia and Indonesia.

The exit of Singapore from Malaysia was painful. So, has been Indonesian Malaysian confrontation which played out in immediate neighborhood in the early 60s but impacted Singapore as well. In the backdrop of these significant confrontations came Singapore's first challenge when it decided to hang two Indonesia marines for bombing the MacDonald House in 1965.

A fledgling country of less than 2 million population went ahead with the hanging despite tremendous pressure from the neighborhood. Singapore has played a significant role in the opening of China to the world in the post-Mao era. Late LKY traveled China 30 times and explained the world to China and vice versa. These measured deliberations set in motion America's negotiations with China. LKY's contribution to modern China's rise is well documented and chronicled by statesmen from both orient and occident.

Despite the growing might of China in the region, Singapore leader was curt enough in his conversation with the tallest Chinese leader post-Mao, Den Xiaoping to stop exporting China's communist tendencies beyond its frontiers. Once again a leader of a tiny island in the Indian ocean was dictating the terms of engagement to a rising country of billion people in Asia.

Likewise, Singapore contributed immensely when Indian economy opened in the early 90s and became one of the most prominent investors. Singapore continues to show the world that a small nation can continue to be a powerhouse in the foreign policy arena if the leadership is strong, determined and is backed by a national urge to be self-reliant.

(Vijay Dwivedi is an engineer by profession and writer by passion.He currently lives in Singapore and continues to keep a keen eye on Indian and regional political and foreign affairs.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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