South Korea’s Yonhap News reported on Friday that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is expected to arrive in Singapore on Sunday, two days before his scheduled meeting with President Donald Trump.
“In Pyongyang, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho met with his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan, and they exchanged in-depth views on further developing bilateral relations between the two countries ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit,” Yonhap added.
Singaporean authorities were not amused when an Australian comedian who calls himself “Howard X” arrived at Changi Airport on Friday impersonating the North Korean leader. He took his Kim impression on the road in Singapore last month and said he plans more satirical appearances during the summit, but was careful to insist he is not “protesting” the Trump-Kim meeting.
Howard X made this distinction because Singapore has very tough laws against political protesting, confined largely to a designated area that is nowhere near the island hotel where Trump will meet with Kim. Human rights groups have criticized these laws as offensive to free speech. Singaporean authorities respond that allowing properly registered and licensed groups to conduct events without interference protects their freedom of speech and reduces the risk of public disorder.
This legal environment might be one of the most important reasons Singapore was chosen as the location for the summit. Kim Jong-un has done many things during his reign that deserve to be protested, and he would certainly feel less comfortable arriving early to a venue where demonstrations against his brutality could convulse the city.
“The Americans approached us first. The North Koreans subsequently came to us,” Singaporean minister for foreign affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday, as related by CNBC. “I think Singaporeans can be proud. Proud that we’ve been chosen because they know that we are neutral, reliable, trustworthy and secure.”
When CNBC asked the White House if Singapore’s strict rules for protests were one reason it was chosen, a White House official said the Trump administration has “conveyed our views” about freedom of the press to the Singaporean government.
“We’re grateful to them for hosting. [Selecting Singapore] has to do with their willingness and graciousness in hosting and the fact that the North Koreans are willing to do it there,” the official told CNBC.
Singapore is considered one of the safest nations in the world, and the safest in Asia. The security apparatus and commercial infrastructure have considerable experience hosting summit meetings and major international events. As Foreign Minister Balakrishnan indicated, the country has good relations with both the United States and Europe; until North Korea’s nuclear antics brought tough new sanctions against Kim’s regime, Singapore was one of the few destinations North Koreans could visit without a visa.
Singapore has already begun closing roads and setting up security checkpoints around the Shangri-La Hotel in advance of Trump and Kim’s arrival. Presumably North Korean security personnel are working with the Singaporeans to prepare for Kim’s flight from Pyongyang, and will probably want to keep some details of his schedule secret, as was the case during Kim’s recent visits to China. For their part, U.S. security teams are busy scouring the hotel and surrounding area for Chinese bugs and spies.