At the moment, one of the biggest obstacles in finalising a peace summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, is selecting a location that is considered politically neutral and geographically reasonable. This means that it will likely not be held on the Korean peninsula, nor on the soil of any of the three superpowers.
The DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho has just been to Stockholm in what was thought to be a meeting to discuss Sweden as a possible host for a Kim-Trump summit. However, China’s influential Global Times has said that Sweden does pose some problems as a possible venue for the summit. The author Hu Xijin writes,
“Despite claims of being neutral, Sweden is a member of the European Union, and has security agreements with NATO. The Scandinavian country is also under US political and security influence, which makes its neutrality questionable. If the Trump-Kim meeting were to happen in Sweden’s capital city, it would likely be a sincere host and ensure security for both sides while providing other convenient measures.
However, if the US were to pressure Sweden to “take action” against Kim, would they resist cooperating? A question mark looms over such a scenario. If the country was not willing to help, could NATO “take action” against Kim either inside or within proximity to Sweden? Thus, placing an ellipsis on top of the question mark”.
With this in mind, The Philippines ought to step forward as a candidate to host the summit. Apart from boosting the prestige of the country as a diplomatic mover on the world’s stage, Duterte’s modern Philippines is also a highly politically appropriate place to hold such a history making summit.
First of all, The Philippines under Duterte has clearly shown a commitment to multi-polarity. This has meant that while business and security relations with China and Russia have reached historic highs, relations with the US continue, in spite of intimidation from the US side. Nevertheless, Duterte has thrown the ball in the court of the US, as he has with any partner and stated that his country is willing to work with anyone who approaches Manila in the spirit of respect and pragmatism. On a personal level, Duterte is liked both by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump.
Some might say that as a traditional American ally in Asia, it would be inappropriate for The Philippines to host such a summit, but such thinking misses a crucial point. Just as the Korean peninsula is in the midst of a historic transformation due to the detente between Pyongyang and Seoul, so too is The Philippines transforming its role in ASEAN, Asia as a whole and the world, due to the reforms of President Duterte. While the stakes for change in The Philippines do not involve nuclear war, they do involve a historic re positioning of partnerships and a fresh outlook which prioritises the economic and social needs of the people, including their domestic and international peace, over a blind dogmatic adherence to neo-colonial alliances.
In this sense, The Philippines is symbolic of an Asian country which has embraced positive change, as both Trump and Kim apparently aim to do if peace is to solidify. As both the DPRK and US share a position along the wider North Pacific, it is also symbolic of the two countries meeting in The Philippines which shares a central position in the Asia-Pacific region.
Hosting such a summit is clearly an expensive task and while the US will provide security for its diplomatic staff and the DPRK will provide security for its diplomatic staff, the burden of the overall security for the event should be shared by the US and China. This is not only a productive way to involve two superpowers in the overall security of a large scale event that would be highly expensive for any non-superpower nation, but it would be symbolic of the ability of Duterte’s Philippines to cooperate with its newest superpower partner China and one of its oldest superpower partners, the United States. Furthermore, China, the US and any other security partner who would want to get involved, including Russia, could set up trade fares on the side line of the event in what would effectively be a sponsorship deal to showcase the latest international products along side locally produced goods in the heart of The Philippines.
Such a summit would also afford The Philippines an opportunity to show off the newer, safer more optimistic and visitor friendly country that has emerged in the wake of Duterte’s reforms and thus dispel the myths about how somehow Duterte’s rule has led to social decline, when it fact Duterte has made the streets safer and more healthy than ever, for both locals and tourists alike. As the international media will be present for the Kim-Trump summit, they would be able to see the modern Philippines first hand and experience the improvements Duterte has made throughout the country.
Ultimately, both North Korea and the United States would have to agree to such an proposal, but if they could be persuaded to do so, it would be a political, diplomatic and economic win-win for The Philippines and hopefully also for the peace of the wider world.