Countdown to Trump-Kim: What do we know so far?

Photo: MCI; @scavino45 via Twitter

Can you believe this is really happening?

In just over an hour, the leaders of longtime enemies North Korea and the United States will meet on the resort island of Sentosa off our southern coast. It’s the first-ever such meeting between a sitting US president and his North Korean counterpart, and the entire world is watching.

The sit-down between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will kick off at 9am at the luxurious Capella Hotel, the setting for what could theoretically mean the end — or at least beginning of the end — of hostile relations between the two nations and an inching of North Korea into the international community. Of course, due to the unpredictability of both leaders, pretty much anything could happen, which probably explains why there are more than 3,000 international journalists are in town and why your Coconuts Singapore team is feeling more than a little anxious.

With that in mind, let’s sum up what we know so far.

How did we come to this point?

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr; Wikimedia Commons

Since Trump became president in November 2016, he’s been publicly trading insults with Kim, whose regime was busily building and testing ballistic missiles throughout 2017. By November of last year, North Korea had tested a missile that appeared to have the capability to reach the entire United States.

It was in February that relations between North Korea and their southern neighbors on the peninsula began to cool down. Twenty-two North Korean athletes participated in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. In early March, Trump shocked the world by tweeting that a high-level meeting with North Korea was being planned.

The next month, Trump noted that five locations were under consideration for his expected meeting, with Singapore, Vietnam, and Mongolia among the theoretical options. It was soon whittled down to Singapore and Mongolia. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong dampened speculation at the time when he said that he had not received any formal requests from any parties.

Marina Bay
Photo: Coconuts Media

Sources soon revealed that Trump administration officials had been told to move forward with plans to set the meeting here. Shortly thereafter, Trump made it official, tweeting that, yes, the summit would take place in Singapore on June 12.

But troubles soon appeared. Less than a month out from the summit, North Korea threatened to pull out over joint US-South Korea military drills, labeling them an “intentional military provocation.” Not long after, it was Trump who called their bluff officially pulling out of the summit first, citing “tremendous anger” and “open hostility” displayed by the hermit kingdom.

Less than 24 hours later, Trump made a U-turn, stating that the meeting could still go ahead. A White House team left for Singapore to prepare for the summit. Meanwhile, professional Kim impersonator Howard X dropped by Marina Bay and took pictures with curious Singaporeans and tourists.

A Kim Jong Un impersonator poses holding a durian fruit (R) and a packet of chicken rice (L) against the city skyline in Singapore on May 27, 2018. Photo: AFP / Roslan Rahman

By June 2, Trump confirmed that the summit was back on track, and would take place as scheduled.

Two days ago, the two leaders landed in Singapore. Kim arrived on an Air China flight on Sunday afternoon at Changi Airport. Trump skipped the second day of the G7 summit in Canada and flew straight to Paya Lebar Airbase, arriving later that night.

Where are the Singapore hotspots?

Photo: Google Maps screengrab

About a week before their arrival, Singapore designated two special zones for the summit. One is the Tanglin vicinity, an area close to the Orchard Road shopping belt. The other is the entirety of Sentosa, the resort island located off the southern coast. Anyone entering those areas will be subject to strict searches, while potentially disruptive items such as large flags, banners, bullhorns, and drones are prohibited.

We soon found out why the whole resort island had been gazetted. Capella Hotel — a luxurious five-star abode — was confirmed as the location of the summit.

Capella Hotel. Photo: Capella Hotel / Facebook

Though it was initially believed that Kim would stay at the Fullerton Hotel, the North Korean contingent bunkered in the opulent abode of the St. Regis, a hotel with bespoke butler service within the designated Tanglin zone. Much like his presidential predecessors, Trump is staying at the Shangri-La Hotel, a mere nine-minute walk from his North Korean counterpart’s accommodations.

Both leaders have already been hosted in separate meetings with PM Lee at the Istana, the office of the Singapore president that’s used to receive and entertain state guests. There, Kim had a short half-hour sit-down, while Trump had a longer meeting as well as a working lunch.

From right: Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, North Korean leader Kim Jong un, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung. Photo: Vivian Balakrishnan / Facebook

The night before the summit with Trump, Kim took in the sights of the country, with a visit to Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, and the Jubilee Bridge. He was even in a selfie with Singapore ministers, what most are assuming marks the first selfie of the young dictator’s life. It was unsettling.

Who’s actually involved in the summit?

Lots of important names. At Trump’s working lunch at the Istana, you could see US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, White House chief of staff John Kelly, firebrand national security adviser John Bolton, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The actual summit, however, will begin with a one-on-one encounter prior to an expanded meeting at which US and North Korean officials would be in attendance.

Photo: VICE / Youtube screengrab

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, probably the only person in the world who personally knows both the leaders, said that he was flying here to provide “whatever support is needed” for the summit. In fact, he already has, despite the White House ruling out any role for Rodman in the talks.

Another two jokers who won’t be involved are the Kim and Trump impersonators, who were in town to hold a “summit” of their own at Bugis Junction over the weekend.

How long will the summit last?

Due to the unpredictability of both leaders and the lack of a rock solid agenda for the meeting, who knows? It could be 10 minutes or 10 hours. US officials had already laid the groundwork for Trump and Kim to carry on their meetings for a second day should they want to continue their discussions. Maybe even a round of golf.

Photo: Trump Golf Tally / Facebook

But hopes for a mooted longer meeting seemed to have been dashed at this point. According to the Washington Post, the North Korean delegation is reportedly scheduled to leave Singapore as early as 2pm today, immediately after the summit.

With Kim setting what seems to be a strict ticking clock on the meeting, Trump is now reportedly planning to leave Singapore 15 hours earlier than expected — meaning he might fly back to Washington tonight, rather than tomorrow morning as originally planned. The White House, meanwhile, has said that the US-North Korea talks are moving “more quickly than expected,” even though no official meetings have yet taken place.

What can we realistically expect?

We’ll let Frank Lavin, former US ambassador to Singapore, have the floor. More insights from him in our exclusive interview with the man here.

Frank Lavin. Photo: Coconuts Media

“I think you could easily have a dynamic where both countries come out ahead. Look, I sort of subscribe to a worldview that says if North Korea opens up a bit, they’ll enjoy a better life.

So I’d say you don’t have to think about US winning or North Korea losing. You’d say North Korea is sending out some signals that they’ve got some flexibility on their government policy, and they’re willing to make some changes in their model to adjust to the current age. And the US is getting some signals from these guys that they want to join the international community.

What we can rule out as a possibility in this first meeting is any extraordinary accomplishment like, you know, ending the Korean war, or a nuclear arms agreement. I think we can rule that out. And that’s the signal we’re getting from Trump. Those are complicated, challenging goals.

I think there’s a lot of baby steps that could take place. Having to do with commercial activity, family unification, international organization participation. There’s a lot of things that could take place there that we could see some movement on.

What you want in diplomacy is, you want to earn the right to proceed. So at least you’re in the game there, and the game is you can keep gaining yards on each play.”

How much is all this costing Singapore?

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According to PM Lee, the nation’s footing a $20 million bill to host the greatest show on earth. The Straits Times reported that $10 million is set aside for ramped up security measures, while $5 million is for the facilitation of international journalists who’ve flown here to cover the summit. Presumably, part of the other $5 million is going towards Kim’s St. Regis hotel tab, which Singapore is totally paying for.

This is probably not part of the allocated budget, but Singapore Tourism Board apparently also sent memos to office tenants around the Marina Bay area encouraging them to keep their lights on all night long for the duration of the summit. Screw those electricity bills — what’s more important is having a beautiful backdrop of lit-up skyscrapers for the thousands of international media outlets broadcasting the city skyline to the world.

So now … we wait. Coconuts Singapore will keep you updated with any major developments taking place throughout the day.

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