Singapore's foreign minister heads to North Korea ahead of Trump-Kim summit

PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan is set to arrive in Pyongyang on Thursday, the Singapore government said, days before it plays host to the leaders of North Korea and the United States at a summit.

Balakrishnan, who went to Washington earlier this week, will meet his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, and the president of the Supreme People's Assembly and ceremonial president, Kim Yong Nam during his two-day visit to Pyongyang, a government statement said.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are due to hold their historic meeting in Singapore on Tuesday next week.

"Obviously, what all of us are hoping for is it would lead to a de-escalation of tension, raise the prospects of peace and for the sake of the North Koreans themselves improve the prospects for economic development," Balakrishnan told the Straits Times referring to the June 12 summit.

"I don't think one meeting next week in Singapore can certainly unlock the entire situation on the Korean peninsula," he said.

The United States and North Korea agreed upon Singapore last month as the venue for the first ever meeting between leaders of the two countries. The White House said then it chose Singapore because it could ensure the security of both leaders and provide a neutral meeting ground.

Balakrishnan also said that it was the United States that had asked Singapore to host the historic event.

Singapore has diplomatic ties with both the United States and North Korea.

The Southeast Asian city-state serves as a regional headquarters for many large US companies and US Navy vessels use its port facilities.

Singapore suspended trade relations with the reclusive Northeast Asian state last year following tightened UN sanctions over its weapons programme, however, North Korea still operates a small embassy in the city.

In 2008, Singapore sent its then foreign minister, George Yeo, on an official visit to North Korea. During that trip, he toured the Nampo Port and Kaesong industrial zone, but visits by senior officials to the isolated state are rare.

6 things to know about Capella Singapore

  • US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are set to meet at 9am on June 12 (Tuesday) at Sentosa's Capella Singapore hotel. Here are 6 things you should know about one of Singapore's swankiest digs. 
  • The hotel, which opened in 2009, was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster. It was restored from buildings that used to house the British officers of the Royal Artillery and their families in the 1880s.
  • Capella Singapore was designed by British architect Norman Foster.
  • Its 112 guestrooms and villas face out onto lush vegetation and the South China sea. Basic rooms start at around $680 a night, while the three-bedroom colonial manor could set you back $10,000 a night.
  • Capella Singapore is nestled amid the greenery of Sentosa, a resort island formerly known by the grim moniker of Pulau Blakang Mati, which in Malay means the "Island of Death from Behind".
  • Its current name means peace and tranquillity in Malay, appropriate for a historic peace summit.
  • The Capella Hotel Group is owned by the Kwee family of Pontiac Land Group.
  • The brand is now expanding across the region, with upcoming hotels under the Capella brand in Ubud, Bangkok, Sydney and the Maldives.
  • Capella is among one of the most expensive hotels in Singapore in which to get married. Prices can exceed $2,400 per table, depending on the menu.
  • Among those who have held their weddings there are homegrown pop star Stefanie Sun and local actor Tay Ping Hui.
  • When it opened in 2009, the hotel had a collection of about 900 artworks, representing more than 200 artists from 15 countries.
  • The resort's front lawn is adorned by sculpture The Arc by French artist Bernar Venet, while a Nikolas Weinstein hand-made glass chandelier hangs in its grand ballroom.
  • It has hosted big-name exhibitions such as a 2012 show with Opera Gallery on the sculptures of the great Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, including notable pieces such as Space Elephant, Alice In Wonderland and Nobility Of Time.
  • Being located in a rainforest, Capella has its resident critters. Guests are sometimes visited by peacocks, who have been known to stroll past at breakfast or around its terraced pools. It is also located near the Sentosa Golf Club - ideal for Mr Trump, who is known for his love of golf.