Hotel owned by Hong Kong billionaire Robert Kuok has record of hosting high-level summits – and would satisfy Pyongyang’s insistence that event cannot be held in an American or European owned venue
Singapore has moved to declare its leafy diplomatic district near the popular Orchard Road shopping belt a “special event area”, fuelling speculation that the landmark summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place at the Shangri-La Hotel.
The announcement in the government gazette came as diplomatic sources told This Week In Asia on Monday that Pyongyang was insistent that the June 12 event could not be held in an American or European owned venue.
Sources also indicated that if everything went smoothly, the two leaders would stay at separate hotels and convene at another hotel for the summit. Not one of the three premises would be owned by a Western company.
The five-star Shangri-La Hotel is part of the Kuok Group, owned by Hong Kong-based Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok.
Two other hotels that have seen heightened security activity, according to local media reports, are owned by Singaporean families. These are the waterfront Fullerton Hotel and Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, home to the Universal Studios Singapore theme park.
Fullerton Hotel is owned by the Sino Land Company founded by the late real estate tycoon Ng Teng Fong and which is a major property player in the region and Hong Kong, while Capella Hotel is owned by Pontiac Land Group belonging to the Singaporean family known as the Kwee brothers.
“Optics will matter significantly. The two leaders cannot be staying at the same hotel and one cannot be seen as calling on the other. They must appear at the summit at the same time,” said another source. “Everything has to be timed with impeccable precision.”
East Asia security expert Steve Tsang said “symbolism and paranoia may both be at work” in the arrangements being demanded.
“Knowing how much both sides want the summit to happen Mr Kim must feel that he can insist on a few matters that are unlikely to be vetoed by the Americans. Insisting on using a hotel not owned by ‘the West’ certainly has a symbolic value in highlighting that the president of the United States, leader of ‘the West’ will meet Mr Kim as an equal,” said Tsang who is from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
And Kim and his security corps are “very probably paranoid” not just with physical safety but also security of their communications, he added.
However, there has been no official indication yet that these two hotels will play a part in the summit.
Monday’s announcement by the Singapore government did not mention a specific venue, saying only that the area, one of the Lion City’s most prestigious residential districts, would be made a special event zone from June 10 to June 14.
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The declaration means that, under the country’s Public Order Act, police can step up security measures in the area such as stopping and searching people.
Loudhailers, aerosol paint, flares and explosives are among items banned from special event zones. The flying of drones is also prohibited.
The gazette document said the summit could include “lead-in activities and social events” linked to the main event.
The area is home to several high key buildings including the US and Australian embassies and Interpol’s Singapore office.
Residents who live near the hotel are accustomed to heightened security measures because it hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum attended by defence ministers from around the world as well as more senior leaders.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the keynote speech at the forum this year.
For the annual event, the Singapore government deploys a large force from the police Gurkha contingent.
Apart from the annual security forum, the Shangri-La Hotel in 2015 played host to the landmark meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and then Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
More than 3,000 journalists are said to have registered to attend the event.
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Officials told This Week in Asia security at Changi Airport would be stepped up this week.
On Monday evening, a This Week in Asia reporter at Shangri-La Hotel spotted no visible police presence in the surrounding area.
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