Monday 10 December 2018

Possible Singapore venues for historic Trump-Kim summit

The June 12 meeting between the US and North Korean leaders is arguably the most crucial diplomatic event this decade.

Singapore is the venue for the June 12 summit (AP)
Singapore is the venue for the June 12 summit (AP)

By Kim Tong-Hyung, Associated Press

The city-state of Singapore is preparing for perhaps the most crucial international diplomatic event of the decade.

The June 12 meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brings a bombastic set of personalities to the small island nation.

Mr Kim wants security, while Mr Trump wants the North to get rid of its nuclear weapons. A breakdown in the talks could be costly – a collapsed faith in diplomacy would heighten fears of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula or perhaps even spark a destabilising arms race in north-east Asia.

While the venue has yet to be announced, rooms appear to be fully booked on days surrounding the summit at the Shangri-La hotel and the Marina Bay Sands resort, two major properties seen as potential locations for the meeting, judging from reservation services on their websites or online travel companies. Other hotels say they have also seen increased reservations since the summit was announced.

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The meeting is one of the biggest international diplomatic events in years (AP)

Here is a look at the possible venues, and why Singapore was likely chosen over more obvious locations:

Why Singapore?

Singapore appears to be a safe choice for the summit. It has close ties with the United States as a major trade and investment partner, and has also maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1975. While Singapore’s tight control over political activities and media has drawn criticism, it is also what makes the country an ideal location for a high-security event like the Trump-Kim summit.

Analysts, meanwhile, say the decision to meet in Singapore may suggest that Mr Trump is entering the talks with tempered expectations.

A summit in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, would have been a tremendous propaganda coup for Mr Kim, who desperately craves international legitimacy. For Mr Trump, Pyongyang would have been the only place in the world where he would command more attention than Mr Kim, and a dramatic stage to showcase the deal-making skills he speaks so proudly of.

Mr Trump would have claimed a summit in Washington as a major diplomatic win. But Mr Kim could have done the same by presenting the invitation as a symbol of US commitment to a security guarantee for the North.

Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said settling for Singapore probably shows Mr Trump is not immediately seeing a significant deal on the table.

“It was clear Trump was never going to Pyongyang unless he was sure he will return with a deal big enough to silence his critics at home, such as a firm agreement from North Korea for a quick and complete nuclear disarmament,” Mr Cha said.

“Kim was never going to Washington, DC, unless the United States promises to lift sanctions against the North upfront.”

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The Shangri-La Hotel (Kyodo News/AP)

The Shangri-La Hotel

The Shangri-La appears to be the most obvious fit. The 747-room hotel has a wealth of experience in hosting high-security events, including the historic 2015 summit between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, the first meeting between leaders of the two sides since they split in 1949.

The hotel also hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, widely seen as Asia’s most important security forum, bringing together defence ministers and high-level government officials from across the region.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, set for June 1-3, will include a session titled “De-escalating the North Korean crisis.” If the Shangri-La hotel is chosen for the Trump-Kim meeting, much of the security preparations might already be in place.

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Runners pass in front of the Marina Bay Sands resort (AP)

Marina Bay Sands Resort

If Mr Trump and Mr Kim have an interest in creating a powerful spectacle, the Vegas-style Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, which towers over Singapore’s bustling financial district, could be the ideal venue.

The three-tower, 2,561-room property, which opened in 2011, now competes with the Merlion statue as Singapore’s most recognisable landmark, dominating the skyline with a huge boat-like structure on top that houses a 150-metre (492ft) -long swimming pool.

The resort is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, whose billionaire chairman, Sheldon Adelson, was one of the biggest financial backers of Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. But there could be security challenges to hosting the summit so close to Singapore’s busiest streets.

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The national flag of Singapore flies against the financial skyline (AP)

Sentosa Island

There has been some speculation that North Korea would prefer the secluded island resort of Sentosa, located about 20 minutes from the city centre, likely because of security reasons. However, it is questionable whether there would be enough rooms at the island’s hotels to accommodate what is likely to be a huge number of delegates, security personnel and reporters.

If the summit is held on Sentosa, the island’s relatively bigger properties such as the Capella Singapore and Resorts World Sentosa could be possible locations.

Press Association

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