SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Jun 11) said that hosting the Trump-Kim summit is “the most significant security operation” that Singapore has had to conduct for an international event.
That is due to the significance of the occasion and the exposure of the two leaders, Dr Balakrishnan said, as well as the threats that the world is facing right now.
“Unfortunately, security, terrorism, extremism is a clear and present danger. So for all of those reasons in our own usual Singapore way, we’ve taken every precaution possible. And our police, our Home Team, our military, everything is deployed and ready,” he said in an interview with BBC.
Earlier on Monday, Dr Balakrishnan was part of the Singapore delegation led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that hosted US President Donald Trump and other officials to a working lunch at the Istana. Prior to that, both Mr Lee and Mr Trump had a one-on-one bilateral meeting.
On Sunday, Mr Lee also met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Istana, after he was received at the Changi Airport by Dr Balakrishnan.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim are set to meet on Tuesday at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island.
A SENSE OF “REALISTIC OPTIMISM”
And while both leaders have tried to manage expectations that the meeting is just the first step towards getting North Korea to agree to denuclearise on terms that are acceptable to all parties, Dr Balakrishnan said there is a sense of realistic optimism in the air.
“Well, what we are witnessing, really, is a hangover of the Cold War, and it has been nearly 70 years,” he said.
“This is not the way conventional diplomacy would have been conducted, but perhaps you need two very unconventional leaders to have brought us to this stage.
“So, it’s based on my interactions with their staff, as well as meeting them personally up front – both are supremely confident, both are hopeful. I think at an emotional level, both of them want something significant out of this summit.”
But can the world trust Kim, that he is committed to denuclearisation and ending the Korean War?
Dr Balakrishnan said: “My sense of it is that there is a real desire for change. He said that he now wants to focus on economic development.
“And having had the advantage of actually visiting Pyongyang, and actually seeing how much they have been able to achieve despite the legacy of the war and the sanctions, there is no doubt that the North Koreans are a determined, proud, enterprising, disciplined people.
“And that is why I left with that sense, supposing they were allowed to participate as a normal country, open up to the world, access the technology through trade, there is so much that they could do. So I think that he is also working on that hope that this is a new phase, a new opportunity.”
“ENORMOUS STRATEGIC IMPACT”
Hosting the summit is set to cost around S$20 million, which Dr Balakrishnan described as an “investment in world peace”.
“The big difference between them and us is that Southeast Asia, particularly for the original members of ASEAN, which you must remember, was formed in 1967 at the height of the Cold War and Vietnam War, is that we had peace, we had time to prove that economic openness, integration, globalisation, free trade, worked,” he said.
“In a sense, Singapore is the ultimate example of that paradigm. Now if you can secure peace and development in North Korea, and if you can dial down the tensions which have prevailed there for seven decades, it is going to have an enormous strategic impact.”
Dr Balakrishnan also confirmed that Singapore is footing the bill for Mr Kim’s stay at the St Regis hotel.
“Well, it’s hospitality that I would have provided for him anyway,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “And it’s all within the budget that the Prime Minister has specified, anyway.”