Weighing Nationalistic Obligations and Global Responsibilities to Facilitate World Peace
June 12th is forever marked and remembered in history texts as the day a US president and a North Korean leader share a room as they negotiate the terms for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It is a moment that would have seemed impractically optimistic just weeks ago as insults such as “Botard” and “Rocket Man” were hurled across the Pacific. The mere fact that they managed to come to an agreement to hold a summit is a laudable achievement. However, while acknowledging that, we must also analyze the benefits for Singapore as we play hosts.
To give a brief background, the Trump-Kim summit was held on the aforementioned date at the luxurious Capella hotel situated on the island of Sentosa, off the southern coast of Singapore. Its 19th century, colonial architecture and roaming peacocks provides it an air of tranquility in stark contrast to the tense meeting agenda of the two leaders.
This is hardly the first time Singapore has held gatherings of world leaders. The little red dot previously served as the place where the leaders of China and Taiwan met for the first time. Singapore also held the 17th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue1, and Asia Security Summit just 2 weeks ago which saw defence ministers and notable officials from 28 Asia-Pacific nations fly in to discuss the de-escalation of the Korean peninsula among other security issues. Our impeccable handling of such events is perhaps the principal reason why our nation was chosen from a pool of reputable countries such as Switzerland where Kim previously studied.
It is however not without its fair share of logistical demands and administrative costs. On the logistical end of things, there was the issue on the footing of the bill incurred by the DPRK delegation. Due to the East Asian nation’s poverty, it is common practice for any country hosting to provide accommodations. This led to several discussions between the States and Singapore as to who would pick up the tab. While both parties were willing to do that, the US paying of Kim’s living arrangements was likely to be considered an insult to the North Korean leader and his officials so it was decided that Singapore would settle the costs under the guise of the price for world peace.
In the days leading to the summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pronounced li-sian-long, not LEE HAZ-EE-EN LAHNG ) disclosed that the summit will cost Singapore a respectable sum of S$20 million. More than half of said cost will be for the provision of security to ensure the utmost safety of the two leaders during their short stay here. Quite expectedly, many Singaporeans did not take too lightly of the price tag that came along with the historic moment. Logically after thorough discussion, we concluded it is not unreasonable to say that the cost is a few more ‘0’s than the amount stated. During the 3 day period, security was heightened and many roads were closed. This indubitably has had a discouraging effect on the willingness for foreign tourists to visit the country during this period. For a nation that had 4.1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the travel and tourism industry (2017) , such an impact especially during the summer holidays will be quite adverse in the short term.
However, it is not all bleak and gloomy. We posit that stepping up to be gracious hosts will benefit us greatly in the long term. While S$20 million is pretty steep, Mr Andrew Darling , CEO and founder of communications agency, West Pier Ventures remarked that it would cost Singapore more than ten times that amount of publicity we have received through this summit. Other media analysis firms have either given a similar projection or higher. Over the weekend before and through the summit, information about our little red dot topped Google’s most searched list in the United States.
Singapore also benefits from increased credibility as a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) Hub. Singapore’s hosting of the high-security, high stakes Trump-Kim Summit draws attention internationally to our world class infrastructure and facilities, stable political and economic climate, and neutral temperament as the third-party. All which bodes well as Foreign Investment is a big business in Singapore, accounting for a projected annual S$8-10 billion in recent years as well as at least 16,000 new jobs created in 20183.
Singapore was also featured favourably in the 42 minute North Korean coverage of the event, painting Singapore as a clean and efficient country with KCNA reporting Chairman Kim Jong-Un to have mentioned that he is going to learn a lot from the good knowledge and experience of Singapore in various fields in the future3. This sets the stage for increased North Korean business ties and investment should the denuclearisation be successful and North Korea opens its economy to the world.
All in all, Singapore stands to benefit from the betterment of ties and credibility with the 2 parties and the world for holding the Trump-Kim Summit. ❄
Matthew Kwong and Natalie Tan ,
PBTC Editors/ Columnists
1 The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue is an inter-governmental defence and security forum held annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) which cultivates a sense of community and defence diplomacy amongst attending countries on important security issues.
2 Estimates by the Economic Development Board and originally reported by The Straits Times.
3 The Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) are North Korean state media which provided newspaper and television coverage of the Trump-Kim Summit.