Members of the South Korean community in Singapore are cautiously optimistic that the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next Tuesday (12 June) could pave the way to sustainable peaceful ties between the two Koreas.
Chloe Park, 29, a research editor at Dow Jones Singapore, noted that the situation between North and South Korea has changed “dramatically” recently.
Within just a few months, the two sides have swung from facing the possibility of an all-out war amid a barrage of missiles fired by the North as reported in the media, to holding an Inter-Korean summit twice, said Park, who has been working in Singapore for four years.
As such, the Trump-Kim summit will be essential to bolster the “peaceful situation” in the divided peninsula and for tensions between North Korea and the US – an important ally of South Korea – to ease, Park added.
“North Korea wants to open its economy and for this (to happen), the US must relax the sanctions against North Korea,” she said. “If the summit becomes a success, the three countries can start (doing more) trade and the two Koreas can restart the activities that we have had before.”
The two Koreas are technically at war with each other as the 1950-1953 Korean War resulted in an armistice, and South Koreans whom Yahoo News Singapore spoke to expressed the desire for the conflict to end with a peace treaty.
Kim So-hyun, 38, a homemaker and freelance writer living in Singapore since 2014, was hopeful that the summit would lead to a declaration of the end of the war and the pursuit of peace by all sides.
“Leaders of countries do not hold summits without agreeing on important issues prior to them. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the summit would have been called off,” said So-hyun.
One of the key issues on the summit’s agenda is denuclearisation, with Trump expected to push Kim for a timetable for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think the North’s denuclearisation can be achieved through a single summit, but the summit itself is an accomplishment as it will be the start of a dialogue between the US and North Korea,” So-hyun added.
While there would be some disagreements along the way, she observed that Kim seemed ready to make concessions on the nuclear issue, in return for economic benefits and a guarantee that the US would not topple his regime.
Just as important, “any deal struck between Trump and Kim would help silence critics of the incumbent South Korean administration’s efforts to resume exchanges with the North”, said So-hyun.
Kim Jong Un appears sincere
Restaurant owner Mdm Kim, who declined to give her full name, agreed, saying that the countries involved in the inter-Korean and Singapore summits are genuine about pursuing peace.
“They will surely come out with something good, I believe. Two countries – and others – have put in so much effort to meet up here. I don’t think they will meet up for nothing,” said the 60-year-old who has been living in Singapore for about 20 years.
Kim Jung-an, 24, a business resource manager at F&B company Trio Kim and university student, believed that Kim’s open nature is unlike the country’s past leaders.
As such, Kim could ultimately achieve what his predecessors, his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, failed to do: bringing sustainable peace between the Koreas. “Maybe this war can really come to a stop,” said Jung-an, who has been staying in Singapore for 15 years.
Describing Kim’s leadership style as “very different from his grandfather and father”, Park said that his efforts towards denuclearisation is one example of his “strong will” to transform North Korea.
“It is very clear to say that Kim takes this situation very seriously and he is willing to complete the summit successfully,” she added.
Kim Jin-tae, 34, a chef at Korean restaurant Obba Jajang, likewise wished for the summit to bring about closer ties between the people from the two Koreas.
“If South and North Korea improve relations, we can travel to each other’s countries…The Korean peninsula will achieve peace,” said Jin-tae, who has worked in Singapore for around four years.
Singapore as summit venue
Most South Koreans here interviewed considered Singapore as a good and neutral venue for the summit. But others felt a better option would be to hold it in the Korean peninsula.
“I am quite disappointed that the summit will be held in Singapore, not in the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) or Pyongyang. Lots of South Koreans anticipated that the location for the historical summit (to be either) because it is really meaningful to all Koreans,” said Park.
Singapore, however, has diplomatic relations with both countries, and is not too far from North Korea, she noted.
Jung-an felt that holding the summit in a “stable and lawful” country like Singapore would enhance the prospects for a positive outcome.
“(The location) gives the feeling…that nothing will go wrong in that sense…that the summit has a higher chance of being successful,” he added.
So-hyun called Singapore “a reasonable choice” for both Koreas, citing the Republic’s experience in hosting the summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in 2015.
With the summit just days away, many Koreans in Singapore are looking forward to it as it is a “huge event” for the Koreas and the world, she added.
There are about an estimated 30,000 South Koreans living in Singapore, according to the Korean Association in Singapore. The association is located in Tanjong Pagar, an area commonly known as “Little Korea” due to the large presence of Korean restaurants and bars there.
Kwon Soon-wook, 23, a waiter at nearby Korean BBQ restaurant Guiga, said that he would like to go and see Kim and Trump up close.
“99 per cent of South Koreans (in Singapore) know about the summit…and most share the same feeling (of wanting to go see the two leaders),” said Kwon, who has been working in Singapore for the past six months.
Given the tight security at the summit venues, others like Mdm Kim would be gathering with a small group of her compatriots to watch TV coverage of the summit and “share their feelings”. If South Korean President Moon Jae-in were to attend the event, however, she said she would “surely” want to see him in person.
The mounting excitement among the members of the South Korean community in Singapore is because they feel that they are witnessing a historic moment, said Jung-an, pointing to a blue-white poster outside Korean BBQ restaurant Super Star K in “Little Korea”.
The poster – a common sight in the area ahead of the summit – shows a peace dove carrying an olive branch with a message wishing for a successful meeting between Trump and Kim.
“You (can) see from (the posters on) the pillars, all of the South Korean community is hoping for a good summit. That’s the support we can give as Koreans living in Singapore.”