SEOUL, South Korea — Singapore, a highly manicured city-state shaped by skyscrapers and luxury hotels, is preparing for perhaps the most crucial international diplomatic event of the decade.
The June 12 meeting between tough-talking President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a brash young ruler with a nuclear arsenal, brings a bombastic set of personalities to the small island nation, which has hosted plenty of important meetings, but nothing as big as this.
Kim wants security and Trump wants Kim to get rid of his nukes. A breakdown in the talks could be costly — a collapsed faith in diplomacy would heighten fears of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula or maybe even spark a destabilizing arms race in Northeast Asia.
Whatever the outcome, the meeting will be a media spectacle. While the venue has yet to be announced, rooms appear to be fully booked on days surrounding the summit at the Shangri-La hotel and the Marina Bay Sands resort, two major properties seen as potential locations for the meeting, judging from reservation services on their websites or online travel companies. Other hotels say they’ve also seen increased reservations since the summit was announced.
A look at the possible venues, and why Singapore was likely chosen over more obvious locations:
Singapore appears to be a safe pick for the summit. It has close ties with the United States as a major trade and investment partner, and has also maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1975. While Singapore’s tight control over political activities and media has drawn criticism, it’s also what makes the country an ideal location for a high-security event like the Trump-Kim summit.
Analysts, meanwhile, say the decision to meet in Singapore may suggest that Trump is entering the talks with tempered expectations.
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A summit in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, would have been a tremendous propaganda coup for Kim, who desperately craves international legitimacy. For Trump, Pyongyang would have been the only place in the world where he would command more attention than Kim, and a dramatic stage to showcase the deal-making skills he speaks so proudly of.
Trump would have claimed a summit in Washington as a major diplomatic win. But Kim could have done the same by presenting the invitation as a symbol of U.S. commitment to a security guarantee for the North.
Settling for Singapore probably shows Trump isn’t immediately seeing a significant deal on the table, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“It was clear Trump was never going to Pyongyang unless he was sure he will return with a deal big enough to silence his critics at home, such as a firm agreement from North Korea for a quick and complete nuclear disarmament,” Cha said by phone. “Kim was never going to Washington, D.C., unless the United States promises to lift sanctions against the North upfront.”
The Shangri-La appears to be the most obvious fit. The 747-room hotel has a wealth of experience in hosting high-security events, including the historic 2015 summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, the first meeting between leaders of the two sides since they split in 1949.
The hotel also hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, widely seen as Asia’s most important security forum, bringing together defense ministers and high-level government officials from across the region.
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This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, set for June 1-3, will include a session titled “Deescalating the North Korean crisis.” If the Shangri-La hotel is chosen for the Trump-Kim meeting, much of the security preparations might already be in place.
“The hotel has not received confirmation on the venue and is not in a position to make any comments on behalf of the stakeholders involved in the preparation of this summit,” Monica Alsagoff, Shangri-La’s communications director, said in an email.
Marina Bay Sands Resort
It Trump and Kim have interest in creating powerful optics — and both seem to be personalities who would — the Vegas-style Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, which towers over Singapore’s bustling financial district, could be the ideal venue.
The three-tower, 2,561-room property, which opened in 2011, now competes with the Merlion statue as Singapore’s most iconic landmark, dominating the skyline with a huge boat-like structure on top that houses a 150-meter (492-foot) -long swimming pool.
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The resort is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, whose billionaire chairman, Sheldon Adelson, was one of the biggest financial backers of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. But there could be security challenges to hosting the summit so close to Singapore’s busiest streets.
“As the official venue of the summit has not been announced yet, Marina Bay Sands has no comments on your questions relating to the event,” Val Chua, communications director at Marina Bay Sands, said in an email.
There’s media speculation that North Korea would prefer the secluded island resort of Sentosa, located about 20 minutes from the city center, because of security reasons. However, it’s questionable whether there would be enough rooms at the island’s hotels to accommodate what’s likely to be a huge number of delegates, security personnel and reporters.
If the summit is held on Sentosa, the island’s relatively bigger properties such as the Capella Singapore and Resorts World Sentosa could be possible locations.