Third Trump-Kim summit in Bangkok?


North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has now missed both two ASEAN -related summits—one in Bangkok early last month and the other one in Busan last week.

There is a high possibility that when Kim and US President Donald Trump are in a better mood and decide to go for the third summit, it is highly likely that it will take place in Bangkok.

Before the ASEAN summits, there were repeated endeavors by the Thai chair to invite Kim to come here for a rendezvous with the leaders from ASEAN and other dialogue partners. But it did not work out because the US-North Korea dialogue has not been proceeding well as expected since the two leaders last met in Hanoi in February. The newly setup working group only held their first meeting in Sweden recently without any tangible results.

Worse, Trump also decided to stay in Washington due to the fresh impeachment effort by the Democrat Party. The 2020 presidential campaign has already started, making foreign travels more difficult for Trump. For the ASEAN -related summits in Bangkok, he sent his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, instead, which caused uproar among the ASEAN circuit. It was the lowest official representation in the history of ASEAN -US relations.

Last June, when Trump and Kim decided to meet in Singapore, Bangkok was one of the venues being considered by the US and North Korea. Advance teams were dispatched and examined Bangkok and its environment. However, at the time, two factors worked against Bangkok as the site. Firstly, the country was still under the military rule. To host such a high-profile meeting would be tantamount to recognize a non-democratic governance. Secondly, the air-quality in the capital city was extremely bad reaching unhealthy level.

In the end, Singapore was selected as the venue. The island nation also paid up to US$17 million in hosting the first Trump-Kim talks. Singapore was an ideal place as Pyongyang wanted to learn more about the economic developmental model and  strategies employed by Singapore.

At present, Thailand has a civilian government after a general election in May. The success of just-concluded 35th ASEAN summit has already put the country back into the international schemes of things. Therefore, from now on, Thailand will remain active in regional affairs.

As a co-chair of Busan Summit, Thailand has sought to strengthen the grouping’s cooperation with South Korea. At the same time, Seoul has been trying to raise its profile within ASEAN. In the past, the Korean Peninsula was the only topic South Korea paid much attention to as far as bilateral ties are concerned. However, under President Moon Jae-in, South Korea has taken a different approach toward ASEAN. Seoul encourages the bloc to play an active role in the peace process in the Korean Peninsula as well as the denuclearization program in North Korea.

In a similar vein, Thailand also has maintained a good relationship with North Korea. Albeit under the constant pressure from the US to severe trade ties with Pyongyang, Bangkok still maintains a small channel of communication through trade links and non-official tracks.

Lest we forget, Thailand has the region’s largest community that studies Kim’s grandfather’s ideology known as Juche ideology. The local chapter in Bangkok has several hundreds of members. In Ayuthaya, a model village of self-sufficiency under the Juche ideology has been set up over a decade ago.

Therefore, when the US and North Korea has bridged their gap, they would go for the third Trump-Kim summit as soon as possible. As the presidential campaign hitting the high note in coming months, Trump has to make a decision whether to move ahead with the summit. Otherwise, both sides would altogether miss some small windows of opportunity.

Meanwhile, ASEAN continues to maintain a dialogue with North Korea, urging the Hermit Kingdom to attend all activities and programs organized by the ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. ASEAN is in a good position to help socializing North Korea in the regional economical schemes of things.

Regional Desk                                                                                                            Source: