20 July 2019
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has built his reputation as a global “ambassador of peace” by hosting the historic summit between Washington and Pyongyang. Photo: Reuters
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has built his reputation as a global “ambassador of peace” by hosting the historic summit between Washington and Pyongyang. Photo: Reuters

What Singapore gains from hosting Trump-Kim summit

The summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has once again placed Singapore, the city state that hosted their historic meeting, under international spotlight.

However, such massive international publicity didn’t come cheap: the Singaporean government spent nearly S$20 million (HK$15 million) to host the summit.

Apparently, some Singaporeans were dismayed at that huge price tag, not to mention that many of them consider such a high-profile international event as more of a nuisance than anything else.

There is also a view among some Singaporeans that their government should have let big international businesses sponsor the event rather than using taxpayers’ money to foot the bill.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the S$20 million the Singaporean government has spent on this summit is definitely worth it, and is likely to produce a lot of long-term and even priceless benefits for the country.

From an international relations perspective, the financial cost for the Trump-Kim summit can be seen as public relations spending, protection money or stability maintenance payment.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t the first time Singapore spent money for the sake of national security or international friendship.

For example, many of the decisions by Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, to invest in the United States have been made in the interest of diplomacy rather than on purely business grounds.

Perhaps only God knows how many payments of S$20 million Singapore has made to secure its close ties with Washington over the decades.

Yet compared to all those diplomacy-related overseas investments Singapore has made in the past, I would say the cost for the Trump-Kim summit is definitely a very good value for the money. Here’s why:

First, even though all the Trump-Kim summit has produced so far is a broad agreement on denuclearization with no details about how to get it done, it doesn’t prevent Singapore from gaining further global recognition of its capacity to host major international conferences.

By hosting the Trump-Kim meeting, Singapore has showcased its world-class transport system, city hygiene, public security, service quality and telecommunications in front of the world media, thereby further reinforcing its status as a global hub for major international events.

Such an unparalleled status enjoyed by Singapore is something that its competitors such as Dubai, Doha, Hong Kong and Shanghai can hardly attain no matter how much their governments are willing to spend.

As we can imagine, more and more high-profile international events are going to take place in Singapore after the Trump-Kim summit.

That would not only help to enhance the city state’s international status, but would also bring about enormous business opportunities in the days ahead.

Second, as for the three Singaporean hotels which the US and North Korean leaders have chosen to stay and meet, they have undoubtedly grabbed headlines across the globe.

Even the other hotels, which were initially on the list but were eventually not chosen by the two leaders, such as Fullerton Hotel, also received a lot of international publicity.

In fact, many of these internationally renowned hotels have a lot of cultural and historical value in their own right.

And they can almost for certain expect a lot more customers in the coming days after all the free international media coverage they were given as a result of the summit.

Then third, Singapore’s tourism industry is definitely going to benefit hugely from the Trump-Kim meeting, and all the places which are associated with the summit are likely to become new tourist attractions.

Moreover, the first-hand experience Singapore has gained in dealing with North Korea would also give it a substantial advantage over other competitors once Pyongyang opens up its domestic market to foreign investors.

It is also likely that Kim might return a favor to Singapore for providing a place for the summit by allowing Singaporean companies to play a key role in facilitating North Korea’s integration into the world market.

Last but not least, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also successfully built his international reputation as a global “ambassador of peace” by hosting the historic summit between Washington and Pyongyang.

Although that might not be enough to earn him a Nobel Peace Prize like former US President Theodore Roosevelt did by mediating the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the Singaporean leader has already achieved something so phenomenal that even his late father Lee Kuan Yew wouldn’t have been able to surpass during his lifetime.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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