Asia Pacific / Politics

Tightly controlled Singapore rolls out tough summit security


Singapore’s reputation for rigid law and order was seen as a major factor for being chosen to host Tuesday’s U.S.-North Korea summit — and the tiny city-state is determined not to disappoint.

Police, including elite units of Nepalese Gurkhas, will flood the streets and enforce a virtual lockdown of key sections of the city, blocking off roads to facilitate the historic face-to-face between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

To pre-empt disruptive protests, a ban has been imposed on bringing flares, banners or bullhorns anywhere near the key summit venues.

Concrete barricades will spring up at key sites, and mechanical metal barriers that rise from the ground at the touch of a button are likely to appear on some roads.

The police deployment for the meeting is expected to be the biggest since 2006, when 23,000 officers were mobilized for an IMF-World Bank meeting.

Singaporeans are used to, and largely accept, tough security measures, and the sight of uniformed officers patrolling the subway and armed soldiers at airports is normal.

The government has long hammered into its citizens that heavy security is necessary because the wealthy financial hub is a prime target for a terrorist attack.

But the extreme measures are likely to be rare even by Singaporean standards, and could disrupt the largely orderly daily life of the city’s 5.6 million residents.

Music teacher Janice Tan, 28, said the security arrangements were “terribly inconvenient,” particularly due to expected road closures downtown.

“I care about world peace but I would prefer if they took their meeting elsewhere,” she said.

The decision to ban flares, banners and bullhorns at some summit venues is perhaps driven by concerns that even in a city where protests are rare and require a police permit, some may still be tempted to come out onto the streets.

Sites covered by these restrictions include Sentosa, the resort island where the leaders will meet Tuesday, and a leafy diplomatic district that takes in the Shangri-La hotel, where Trump is expected to stay.

Authorities have also restricted the use of airspace, apparently to allow Kim, Trump and their entourages to get in and out smoothly. But that could spell delays for travelers using Singapore’s Changi Airport, one of the world’s busiest hubs.

There have already been signs that authorities are nervous ahead of the meeting.

An Australian former terrorism suspect who was refused entry into Singapore this past week and was deported home said he believed it was because of the looming summit.

A Kim Jong Un lookalike — who has been to Singapore before without any problems — was grilled by immigration officials for two hours when he arrived Friday and was warned not to visit sites linked to the meeting.

Some of the heaviest security will be around Sentosa, which observers believe was picked because it is relatively far from population centers, and the island’s Capella Hotel, where the leaders will hold their historic talks.

An AFP photographer said hotel staffers were turning away those without business in the area, and plainclothes security officials — both American and Singaporean — were spotted around a bar overlooking the Singapore Strait.

While the security may be extreme, analysts think it is needed given the unprecedented nature of the summit.

“By and large, Singaporeans are used to seeing men in uniform,” said Graham Ong-Webb, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“This time round, they might balk slightly at the number of security assets on the ground — but it is necessary.”