The historic summit between President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un has been on again, off again.. but one thing that hasn't changed is the site of the summit - Singapore. The tiny city state plays an oversized role in the economy of Southeast Asia.. and there's something about all that bling, that may be attracting Kim's eye.
Singapore looks much like any high-end, high dollar retail strip in the world. With pricey shops and tidy gardens, it’s like Beverly Hills transplanted to Southeast Asia. But there the similarities stop. It’s one of the world’s most open and wealthiest economies in one of the most controlled democratic societies.
Cheryl:It's a democracy but it's had the same party and power.
Cheryl Duckworth is an American who works in Singapore’s financial services industry.
Cheryl: It is a little, by American standards, they'd probably say it's a little heavy handed in some of the things that you're allowed to do, not allowed to do. And just the presence of, Well, there's not a strong presence that you can visually see of police and so forth. But there are things that are taken care of quite swiftly.
The same political party — the People’s Action Party — has been in office since 1959. Some describe it as ‘authoritarian’. Caning criminals is a common practice, something American student Michael Fay experienced after confessing to vandalism. chewing gum is only allowed only for “therapeutic purposes,” and trafficking as little as a pound of marijuana carries a death penalty. But so far, the strict controls have worked to keep terrorism at bay even though Singapore is in a region that’s a hotbed for Islamic extremist violence.
Sharyl: Threats of terrorism back home are really a minute by minute concern. Do you feel that here at all?
Cheryl:You really don't. The way the country is run, it's incredibly safe, the citizens are well taken care of.
Sharyl: Has there ever been a terrorist attack here?
Chan Heng Chee: Oh, touch wood. Yeah, there was, almost.
Sharyl: Chan Heng Chee is Singapore's Ambassador at Large.
Heng Chee: In 2001, after 9/11, we discovered Al Queda cells here and Al Queda cells were planning to really attack the facilities the US was using that we opened up to the United States.
Sharyl: How have you stayed so far clear of terrorist attacks and do you think it's only a matter of time before it changes?
Chan Heng Chee: My ministers and my prime minister have been alerting Singaporeans. They keep saying it's not a question of if but when we - step up our sensoring, monitoring, and really just intelligence that helps you foil attacks. But Singapore, and much of Southeast Asia.. are facing new threats from ISIS offshoots.. Like those claiming credit earlier this month for the bombing of a Christian church in Indonesia. But we know there's this network in the region and now that ISIS seems to be running into trouble in the Middle East, many of them are especially the foreign fighters who are from Southeast Asia, IS foreign fighters, DESH foreign fighters, are coming to back to Southeast Asia.
Singapore’s booming economy might be another reason to use this country as a stage for North Korea’s coming out party. This tiny city-state of about 5 1/2 million people around the size of Manhattan Is considered one of the ‘tigers’ of the Asian economy. Looking out over Singapore’s harbor, you can see the wealth of the world moving on ships from port to port. Singapore’s Strait of Malacca is a crucial shortcut between India and Asia. Economically and strategically, Singapore sits one of the most important shipping lanes on the planet. For North Korea’s Kim—it will be a stark contrast to his gulag economy and gives him another chance to consider the upside of growing his economy rather than his nuclear capabilities.
Wagner: The fact is there are 525,000,000 people in the middle class in Asia today. By 2030, that number's supposed to be 3.2 billion.
Sharyl: Kirk Wagner is the former US Ambassador to Singapore. It'll have seven times the consumer impact of the United States. If you're not doing anything in Asia, you're not doing anything internationally.
But.. there could be another reason Kim wants to meet within the region.. He doesn’t have an Air Force One. Instead.. He will likely fly “Air Force Un” a remodeled Soviet Cold War era plane which might not make it on a long range flight. At 3,000 miles from North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang, Singapore might be the outer limits of Kim’s range, without risking the embarrassment of having to borrow someone else’s wings.