SEOUL—Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, was often described as a big man on a small stage. Now that small stage will need to accommodate two big men. On Thursday, Donald Trump announced that he will hold nuclear negotiations with Kim Jong Un—the first encounter between a U.S. president and North Korean leader—on June 12 in the Southeast Asian city-state.
It’s a safe choice over a symbolic one. Singapore has no special connection to the Korean conflict or the North Korean nuclear crisis. But it does have the distinction of maintaining relatively good relations with both the United States and North Korea, and thus serves as neutral territory. The “more Representative, Important and Lasting site,” as Trump himself put it in a tweet several days ago, would have been the Panmunjom truce village at the border between North and South Korea, where the 1953 Armistice suspending the Korean War was signed, where that conflict’s unresolved hostilities have repeatedly flared up, and where Kim just held a historic meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae In last month.
But that symbolism may have ultimately looked more forbidding than appealing to U.S. officials—and not just because Trump, with his affinity for show business, probably wasn’t thrilled about simply repeating the pageantry of the inter-Korean summit.