PM Lee Hsien Loong gave a doorstop interview to local media at the International Media Centre (F1 Pit Building) on Sunday, 10 June 2018.
Q: PM you just visited Public Service Officers who are preparing for the summit this morning. Could you maybe tell us what are the key challenges in preparation for the summit, especially given the short time frame? How is Singapore working with the US and North Korea, especially in terms of security?
PM Lee Hsien Loong: This is a very major operation for us, as you pointed out. It is at a very short notice to get prepared. The scale of the meeting, the number of journalists coming, the amount of security which we believe is necessary to be provided. And the coordination which we must do, between all the different agencies to make sure that it is seamless, efficient and effective. I think the officers have done a very good job, under very pressed circumstances. The Home Team, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Ministry of Communications and Information, the private sector, Mediacorp, it is a whole of government, in fact a whole of Singapore approach to make sure that we prepare and do our best to be a competent good host for what is a very important meeting between the president of the United States and the Chairman of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. I visited the units this morning at Sentosa, New Phoenix Park, which is where the Home Team headquarters is, and here where the communications and media centre would be. I think they have done a very good job – not just their own pieces, but being able to put it all together and to integrate and to coordinate with one another. They are all ready for the operations over the next few days.
With the Americans and the Koreans, we have coordinated with them. The Americans have been here for some time – a couple of weeks with their team. We have been working with their team. The Koreans have also sent their people down. We are in touch with them to the extent, for example, that the Home Team have even found Korean speakers amongst our own policemen and civil defence officers, in order to be able to make the interface and liaison and translate. I said, "How do you know that they speak standard Korean?" They said, "Well, tested by the court certified interpreters." So I think we have made sure that we have seen to the details as well as the big picture.
Q: Why did we agree to play host, and what is the significance of this role for Singaporeans?
PM Lee: Well, it is a very important meeting. The situation in Northeast Asia, particular on the Korean Peninsula and the problem of denuclearising of the Korean Peninsula is one which affects the security of the region, not just Northeast Asia, but actually the whole of Asia. In fact, if you look at it more broadly, the whole world. This meeting has the potential to set those developments on the new path, which were heading in a not very good direction for some time. It is not easy to find a place to host the meeting. Both sides have to agree. It has to meet the requirements. It has to be politically and diplomatically acceptable to them. The practical arrangements have also to be seen to. Security. Safety. Physical distance. The communications, rather, whether we are able to handle the media or not. They are not very many possible choices of places to go. From our point of view, it is important that the meeting take place and that the meeting has a positive outcome, sets developments on a new trajectory and one which would be conducive to the security and the stability of the region. So therefore, when the two sides ask us to host the meeting, we cannot say no. If we have to step up, I think that we are capable of doing it. We have put resources into it but we can do a good job. In terms of direct impact on us, plus or minus, well it gives us publicity. The fact that we have been chosen as the site of the meeting. We did not ask for it but we were asked and we agree. I think it says something about Singapore's relations with the parties – with America, with North Korea. Also, our standing in the international community. When the meeting takes place, the publicity, the communications, the setting of the meeting, that it takes place in Singapore, I think people will sit up and say why is this meeting happening in Singapore? It will draw their conclusions and they will see how things ran and I am sure that we will be able to show what Singapore can do. So I think it is a plus for Singapore. It costs some money to put up. It is a lot of effort for our security people. It is a lot of effort for our communications people as well. If you ask me how much it will all come to, I say – [Singapore Foreign Minister] Vivian Balakrishnan was asked this question earlier – I would say, plus or minus around $20 million (SGD) dollars. We may be able to recoup a little bit of that, but I think it is a cost which we are willing to pay and it is our contribution to an international endeavour which is in our profound interest.
Q: Just wondering is the S$20 million inclusive of everything or is that just the security?
PM Lee: It is a round number, including everything, including the communications. Security may be half of that. It is very hard to say exactly what the security cost is. For example, we have security operations which go on all the time, quietly, we do not say so, but we monitor the ships which go through the Singapore Straits. From time to time, we warn the ships which go through the Singapore Straits to make sure nothing goes wrong while they are in the Singapore Straits, close to Singapore. We have patrols which take place, you see them even in the city such asThe counter-terrorism patrols. So these are things which go on all the time. With this summit going on, they have been intensified. So is there a difference? Yes there is. What is the base line? It is not zero, it is something that we have been doing – some of, anyway but now we are making sure we are heightening it as far as we can make it a very, very safe summit.
Q: But PM how are we going to recoup a little?
PM Lee: I think if you calculate the price of everything in this world, you will miss out the real important things. In this case what is important is that the summit is held and we are hosting it, not extravagantly, but with due consideration to cost but making sure that the operational requirements are met. You can be sure that we are cost-conscious and you can also be sure that we will do what is necessary to make this a safe meeting and one, where the journalists can work, where the news can go out and all those participating will know that as hosts, we have done more than our duty.
Q: You mentioned that this a plus for Singapore. Observers say that in hosting this, we will gain soft power. If so, how can Singapore leverage on this in future, and on what important issues?
PM Lee: I think the whole point of these exercises is not to go for a specific quantifiable advantage. We are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do. We are doing this, we believe if we do it well, it will be a plus for Singapore. Plus in terms of reputation, in terms of our standing, how people look at us, when you participate internationally, people know that you carry a bit more weight. To say that as a result of this, I will get a specific concession on one issue or another, I do not think that is realistic. I cannot quantify this, but I am convinced it is the right thing to do, and it is good for us.
Q: I wanted to ask about Singapore-DPRK's trade relations. Depending on the outcome of the summit, what would it take for Singapore to consider lifting the suspension on trade relations with DPRK?
PM Lee: Our relations depend on the international situation and particularly on the UN Security Council resolutions, the UN Security Council’s decisions. And because of the UN Security Council sanctions on DPRK, our trade with DPRK has substantially diminished. It has really reached a negligible level last year. I think we have S$700,000 worth of trade. I saw one of the journalists wanted to ask, “Why do we rank seven and that is very high”. Actually, that is a meaningless number. What is meaningful is that the number has become very, very low and it is because of the UN Security Council’s sanctions. Of course there is an agreement, there is progress, the sanctions are lifted, I expect our trade will grow. We used to have some trade with them. So there is some potential, but it will take some time.
Q: I understand you talked about how the meeting result will probably in denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
PM Lee: I did not say that. I said I am hoping that it will lead to the denuclearisation eventually. Which will be a long process and there are many twists and turns. But it is the first step to turning around a situation which was heading in the wrong direction.
Q: There are speculations about the time between kinds of agreements that will be reached. We do not know what they will be yet. As for Singapore as the host, what are the outcomes that we hope we will see.
PM Lee: Whether we are host or not, we hope for an outcome which will set things on a constructive path. They have been at war for 70 years, since 1950, so almost 70 years. The nuclear issue has been there for 25 years at least, since the early 1990s. The first agreement was in 1994. The problem in 1993 – the problem was even before that. There have been many agreements, discussions, agreements broken, agreements, further discussion, repeated agreements, further disappointments, moves and counter moves, mistrusts and misunderstanding built up over many years. You cannot wipe that all the way with one meeting. But if you can hope to do is to start things moving in a positive direction and hope to build up progressively along the way, to build trust, to make further moves and to keep on progressing gradually until we reach a point where we can say, "Well, the nuclear problem is no longer urgent and Complete Verifiable Irreversible Denuclearisation (CVID)" – which is what the UN Security Council has asked for. I think that is a long process but this is a first step. If the first step happens in Singapore, well, we are happy to be associated with it.
Q: May I just trouble you to repeat your answer in English with regards to Singapore investing more in this summit, such as setting up the IMC, compared to previous summits.
PM Lee: It is purely a practical consideration. The scale is bigger. The number of journalists coming is huge – 2,500 journalists are registered, 800 have already collected their passes this morning. It is even more than we had for the IMF World Bank meeting about ten years ago. That in itself means that as host, we have to provide and make sure that they are able to do their work – their feeds, the live cross points, the work stations, the briefs or information facilities which are available and that is a big part of it. The other big part of it is security and the requirements for security for this meeting are much higher than for the previous meetings because of the profile of the meeting and the nature of what is being discussed. Therefore, we have to be taken absolutely seriously – it is not just the cordon of policeman and guards around meeting venue but all round and in-depth protection – air, sea, land – against attacks as well as against mishap. The Air Force, the Navy, the Army, the Commandos, the Police, the Civil Defence, the hospitals are on alert so this is a very major operation because it is a high profile meeting and we cannot afford to have anything go wrong.
Q: What about the impact to everyday Singaporeans?
PM Lee: As I had said earlier, it is important to us, therefore we have decided to host this meeting. Because the content of the meeting is important to us. Because we believe that it would be good for Singapore if we hosted this meeting, and we are seen to be a host who can play our duty well, look after the participants well, and do our part to make sure that at least as far as the physical safety and security arrangements, nothing took away from the success of the meeting. Therefore, it is a whole-of-government effort, but it is really a whole-of-Singapore effort. Because all of us, you may be working in the media team, and you have spent the last few nights setting up the media centre, I am sure some of you have been working overtime doing the articles and the special reports which I have seen in the newspapers over the last few days, which is a lot of work. Or whether you are the bomb disposal unit, scanning the premises, scanning the routes, making sure that everything is safe. Or whether you are the police units on standby, in case anything happens, you need to be called out. Or whether you are just an ordinary Singaporean, your life has been a little bit inconvenienced because the roads have been cordoned off and the traffic jams have happened, I hope you can understand that it is for a good cause, it is national effort. I hope we will be able to work together to show the world what Singapore can do.
Q: PM, how will the outcome of the Summit mean for the peace process for ASEAN and the region?
PM Lee: This has to do with the security issue in the Korean Peninsula. Within ASEAN, we have other issues which ASEAN works on, including some which has security dimension to it. For example, the South China Sea issue has a security dimension to it. I do not think the impact is direct, but indirectly, I think an unstable or tense North East Asia is not good for ASEAN. So we hope that this will lead to stability and peace in North East Asia. That indirectly will be to our benefit as well.
Q: What do you intend to raise and discuss at the bilateral meetings with Mr Kim and Mr Trump?
PM Lee: I think they will be focused on their bilateral meeting. My meeting with them is a courtesy call. I will, of course, hear what is on their minds and tell them that they have our full support to make this a successful meeting.
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