SINGAPORE - The Government has declared the area surrounding the Shangri-La Hotel a "special event area" for the period of June 10 to 14, for the upcoming summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While some observers say this has raised the likelihood of the hotel being the venue of the historic summit, others think the Shangri-La could be where one of the two men will be staying, or a “decoy” altogether.
The choice of summit venue has been shrouded in secrecy so far, leading to all kinds of speculation.
The gazetted area is bordered by Dunearn, Paterson, Grange and Cluny roads. Observers point out that it covers other high-end hotels such as the St. Regis Singapore and Four Seasons Hotel Singapore.
The Capella Hotel on Sentosa and The Fullerton Hotel near Fullerton Road have also been mentioned as either where Mr Trump and Mr Kim will stay, or meet.
An order made on Sunday (June 3) in the Government Gazette under the Public Order Act said the “special event area” will take effect from June 10 and run to June 14.
The order, signed by Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Pang Kin Keong, said the summit may consist of meetings between representatives of the two countries, and includes “any lead-in activities and social events connected with the summit”.
It added that private land in the gazetted area will not be part of the special event area.
In another order, made on the same day by Commissioner of Police Hoong Wee Teck, a smaller segment within the same area has been declared a "special zone", where enhanced police powers will take effect from June 10 to 14.
There will be special conditions of entry for people or vehicles entering the area, where people might be subject to spot checks or inspections by police officers.
Prohibited items, such as flags, banners, signal flares and flammable materials, will also not be allowed within the area.
The Shangri-La Hotel has held major conferences over the years, including Asean Summits and ministerial meetings, as well as the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, the latest of which ended on Sunday (June 3).
It has also hosted top US leaders such as Mr Barack Obama and Mr George H.W. Bush, and English Premier League club Arsenal. The hotel, which is part of the Kuok Group that is owned by Hong Kong-based Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok, was also the venue for the 2015 historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
The announcement indicates a “high likelihood” that the summit will take place at the hotel, said Centre of Excellence for National Security research fellow Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman.
“The hotel has experience, especially in cooperating with security forces, to host high level events of political, diplomatic and multilateral importance such as the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.”
He added that enforcing the Public Order Act for the upcoming summit is also necessary to protect against suspicious people and vehicles entering the area and possible threats like terror incidents and violent protests.
Dr Graham Ong-Webb from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said the use of the Public Order Act, which allows stringent security measures like bag checks, anti-vehicle barricades and increased police presence, means that Singapore is taking security for the event very seriously.
“It sends a message that there will be no tolerance of nonsense. This is a serious act with serious consequences.”
This is the second time the Minster of Home Affairs has declared a special event under the Public Order Act since it was amended in April 2017.
The first was during the 32nd Asean Summit. The areas around the Istana and Shangri-La Hotel were designated “special event areas” on April 27 and 28.
RSIS’ associate professor Alan Chong said there could be other areas gazetted as special event areas in the days to come.
He pointed out that the Tanglin area could be used for accommodation of the delegations and not necessarily the summit itself.
Agreeing, Dr Ong-Webb said the gazetting of the area could be an attempt to “throw the wider public off the scent” and prevent crowds from gathering near the actual site before security arrangements are in place.
More than 3,000 journalists are expected to be in Singapore to cover the event.
“The element of unpredictability still prevails, and things might only become clear just days before the summit takes place,” said Dr Ong-Webb.
Meanwhile, some residents of the affected area interviewed last night said the excitement of being within walking distance of the Summit outweighs any inconvenience they might have to put up with.
Administrative manager Yeo Su Chen, 50, who lives off Orange Grove Road, said police check points are a common sight during major events like the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“This is a piece of history in the making for world peace and we are happy to be so close to where it is expected to happen... we are all very proud and happy that Singapore is hosting such an important event,” said Mrs Yeo.
Businesswoman Alice Fong, 34, who has lived in the area for most of her life, said: “The security searches have never affected me and my family and take at most a couple of minutes as it is unlikely that any of us carry any prohibited items around anyway.”
A Shangri-La spokesman said “it is still business as usual”, adding that the hotel is not in a position to comment on behalf of summit stakeholders.
The special zone also covers malls such as Forum The Shopping Mall and Tanglin Mall.
Businesses there will likely see a drop in footfall during the period, said Mr Pang Fu Wei, managing director of baby products retailer Mothercare, which has an outlet in Forum.
But he added that the mall relies a lot on enrichment centres to drive footfall. “As long as people keep sending their kids to the centres, I think it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” he said.