North Korea-U.S. summit poses tough security challenges for low-crime Singapore

Singapore port and Sentosa islandSingapore port and Sentosa island

The runup summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Trump on Tuesday is testing low-crime Singapore’s sometimes easy attitude toward security.

Singapore is so safe that the government frequently takes to advertising to warn that “low crime doesn’t mean no crime.”

The relatively small amount of crime leads to situations that would be unthinkable in most of the world: Reserving, or as it’s called locally, “choping,” tables at food courts by leaving smartphones unattended on the table or shopkeepers “locking up” by running a rope across the open entrance to their stores.

But with a rush of international news media into the city-state, security issues are cropping up.

Singapore’s police said in a Facebook post on Friday that two South Korean men, who were representing the Korean Broadcasting System News, were arrested in relation to a reported case of criminal trespass into the residence of the Ambassador of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea.

KBS didn’t immediately return Shenton Wire’s requests for comment, which were sent via Facebook and email.

Singapore’s police appear to be taking a stern tone over these incidents.

“The Police would like to remind all foreigners visiting Singapore to abide by our laws. Those who break the law will be dealt with firmly, and this may include termination of visas and repatriation,” it said in the Facebook post. “Members of the media who commit any offence in Singapore will also not be accredited and thus will not be able to cover the Summit.”

Security lapses

Some attitudes toward security might have far-reaching consequences.

This reporter attended a media event held last week by an investment bank at the Capella Hotel, on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, where it was noted that the Caucasians in attendance passed easily through hotel security without being stopped, while others had their passes inspected. A photographer whose pass had the wrong date was prevented from entering.

When contacted, the hotel indicated that security was a priority.

“At Capella Singapore, the safety and security of guests as well as our colleagues is our top priority. This is our daily commitment across all departments. Guests of Capella Singapore are assured that their privacy, safety and security remain a key priority at all times,” Fernando Gibaja, general manager of Capella Singapore, said via email last week.

The incident did not involve Singapore police or security forces; the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs did not return an emailed request for comment.

But the incident with the media event occurred a day after a Washington Post reporter, John Hudson, said on Twitter that he had entered the hotel by going to the hotel bar, ordering a hibiscus iced tea, and appearing to be a tourist.

Entering the Capella

“I eventually walked back into the hotel lobby and stumbled upon the U.S.-DPRK team leaders Joe Hagin and Kim Chang Son (Kim Jong Un’s de facto chief of staff,” he said on Twitter last week. After talking briefly with Hagin and taking photos of the North Korean delegation, hotel staff demanded he hand over his phone, which he declined to do, and leave, which he did, Hudson said on Twitter.

“I think it’s fair to say there may have been some white privilege here in the sense that the current press corps covering the summit planning in Singapore is almost uniformly Asian, so I was perhaps more plausibly a tourist in the eyes of the hotel staff,” he said on Twitter.

While the summit’s main event isn’t being held until next week, the early security breaches can still be a security concern.

In one notorious terrorist attack in 1984, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA, attempted to assassinate then U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by placing a long-delay time bomb at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England. Thatcher was not injured; five people were killed and more than 30 injured. The bomb reportedly may have been able to defeat the efforts of sniffer dogs by being wrapped in cling film.

Singapore itself has faced terrorist bombings, although with a lack of casualties.

There was a bombing in 1985 at a 12-storey office building along Orchard Road, Faber House, and a second one in 1986 at same location; while buildings in the vicinity were damaged, no one was injured. In 1991, a Palestinian guerrilla confessed to the first bombing as being targeted at the Israeli embassy, which was located in Faber House. The 1986 bombing was also believed to have targeted the Israeli embassy.