Singapore braces for Trump-Kim storm

Singapore braces for Trump-Kim storm
Howard, an Australian-Chinese impersonating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, takes a stroll at the Merlion Park in Singapore May 27, 2018.
PHOTO: Reuters

SINGAPORE - Singapore hotel rooms are being snapped up, police are preparing to lock down the city and thousands of journalists are set to jet in for the greatest media circus on Earth - the US-North Korea summit.

Top officials are scrambling to salvage the historic meeting between President Donald Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong Un planned for June 12 in the city-state.

If the summit - already cancelled once by Trump before plans got back on track - does go ahead, then tiny, placid Singapore will be the unlikely ground zero for one of the biggest geopolitical events of recent times.

The delegations of US and North Korean officials, along with their security details, are expected to be huge. But they are likely to pale in comparison to the gigantic media pack set to swarm the tropical city-state.

Some 3,000 people are expected to apply for media accreditation, sources involved in planning the event who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.

It should easily eclipse the contingent of journalists at the last comparable event in Singapore, the 2015 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan's then-leader Ma Ying-jeou. Hundreds of journalists witnessed that meeting.

MEDIA INVASION

There was a foretaste of the coming invasion this week as reporters camped out at the upscale Fullerton hotel to get a glimpse of Kim Chang Son, Kim's de facto chief of staff, who is in Singapore to lay the ground for the meeting.

Top North Korean official seen in Sentosa for possible meeting with US officials

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    Mr Kim Chang Son, the de facto chief of staff of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, flew into Singapore on Monday night and is believed to be staying at The Fullerton Hotel.

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    A car carrying North Korean officials leaving Capella Hotel in Sentosa on May 30, 2018.

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    A Capella Hotel staff member diverts a couple away from the entrance of a road that leads to the hotel on May 30, 2018.

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    The media wait opposite the entrance of a road that leads to Capella Hotel on May 30, 2018.

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    Mr Kim Chang Son, the de facto chief of staff of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, leaving the Fullerton Hotel on May 30, 2018.

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    Kim Chang Son (L), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's de facto chief of staff, prepares to get into a car as he leaves a hotel in Singapore on May 29, 2018.

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    Kim Chang Son (front), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's de facto chief of staff, gets into a car as he leaves a hotel in Singapore on May 29, 2018.

Meanwhile top hotels rumoured to be summit venues - the frontrunner is the five-star Shangri-La, where the Xi-Ma meeting took place - are almost fully booked.

But while world leaders hold their breath amid rising hopes a summit could lead to Pyongyang permanently abandoning its nuclear weapons programme, some Singaporeans were more concerned about the potential disruption to their peaceful lives.

Chang Anthony posted on Facebook that the meeting in the squeaky-clean city-state - calm and stable to the point of sometimes being mocked as boring - was "going to cause us inconvenience".

"Can government declare a (public holiday) for this special day?" he asked.

"Oh crap, two most unpopular leaders in the world coming here for world peace," lamented Timothy Klein on the site.

Security will certainly be onerous, with large numbers of police set to be deployed and extensive road closures expected around the summit venue.

FREE DRINKS FOR DELEGATES

But Lim Tai Wei, a fellow at the National University of Singapore's East Asia Institute, played down fears the event could cause widespread disruption.

"You have to bear in mind that the country has the experience of hosting the Xi-Ma meeting in 2015, and also previously having hosted past US presidents," he told AFP.

While some may lament the sudden influx of media and diplomats, businesses see it as an opportunity.

In a city famous for the "Singapore Sling" cocktail, watering hole Escobar is proving the country's bartenders can still rise to the occasion with two special summit drinks.

The "Trump" is a blue, bourbon-based cocktail while the " Kim" is a red-coloured cocktail with soju, a Korean liquor, as its base. Both cost $12.60, a reference to the summit's expected date.

The bar - named after drug kingpin Pablo Escobar - will also have a "US-North Korea showdown" where customers who order a tray of 20 shots get to compete in a game of "rock, paper, scissors" while wearing gloves emblazoned with the countries' flags.

And there is a special treat for weary summit participants.

"If you can show that you're a delegate attending the event, I'll buy you a round of drinks on the house," owner Stan Sri Ganesh told AFP.

'Kim Jong Un' poses for selfies in Singapore

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    Surprised Singaporeans pursued North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday (May 27) before realising the portly man with slick black hair near the Marina Bay Sands hotel was an impersonator.

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    Surprised Singaporeans pursued North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday (May 27) before realising the portly man with slick black hair near the Marina Bay Sands hotel was an impersonator.

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    The Australian-Chinese man posing as the North Korean leader calls himself only Howard X and said he was appearing to wish success for a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump to negotiate an end to the North's nuclear programme.

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    "When you see him, it's very difficult to make out."

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    Howard X also made an appearance as Kim at the Winter Olympics in Gangneung in South Korea in February, bewildering North Korean cheerleaders who initially thought their leader had walked into a hockey stadium.

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    "I think the two leaders will sit down and they're going to have a great time, because really they have the same personality," he said on Sunday. "They are going to be best friends right after this meeting."

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    "It looked like the real Kim Jong Un, but later I realised it's not the real one," said Sagar Admuthe who was visiting from Mumbai, India, after several selfies with the doppleganger against a backdrop of the city's bay.

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