Find the leader: Kim’s cat-and-mouse journey to Singapore

Published June 11, 2018
A NORTH Korean cameraman stands in the sunroof of a vehicle in a motorcade believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un outside St Regis hotel, Singapore, on Sunday.—Reuters
A NORTH Korean cameraman stands in the sunroof of a vehicle in a motorcade believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un outside St Regis hotel, Singapore, on Sunday.—Reuters

SINGAPORE: North Korea’s capacity for distraction and sleight of hand was on show on Sunday as leader Kim Jong-un flew to Singapore for his summit with US President Donald Trump.

No fewer than three aircraft made their way to Singapore from Pyongyang airport, a facility that frequently sees fewer than three international flights a day.

One of them was the ageing Soviet-made Ilyushin-62 that is Kim’s personal jet — officially known as “Chammae-1”, or Goshawk-1, after the North’s national bird but perhaps more memorably dubbed “Air Force Un”.

But while Singapore is well within its range, questions have been raised about its reliability and Kim, it turned out, was not on board.

Instead he flew on an Air China Boeing 747. According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, it took off using flight number CA122, a standard designation for the airline’s route from Pyongyang to Beijing.

In midair it changed its call sign to CA061 and headed south.

In Singapore its high-profile passenger was met by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who tweeted a picture of himself shaking hands with Kim, who wore a dark lapel-less suit.

Kim was driven into the city-state in a convoy of more than 20 vehicles, including an ambulance, with North Korean television cameramen filming his progress through the sunroofs.

Hundreds of Singaporeans lined the streets to capture images of their own of his black Mercedes Benz stretch limousine with tinted windows — not normally allowed in Singapore, even for the country’s prime minister.

Reporters and photographers packed the pavements outside the St Regis hotel where Kim was to stay. Covers had been hung over the driveway and hotel security brought out additional potted plants to obstruct the view of the lobby.

Aside from three official photographs released by the Singapore government, there had been no public sighting of Kim nearly two hours after he landed.

Eye-wateringly expensive

Located just off Singapore’s diplomatic district and a stone’s throw away from the Orchard Road shopping belt, the modernist St Regis is tucked between an ageing building dotted with carpet shops and a sleepy high-end neighbourhood mall.

Rooms at the establishment start at Sg$320 (US$240) a night.

On the 20th floor, the ostentatiously opulent 335-square-metre (3,606 square feet) Presidential Suite, where Kim was believed likely to stay, features a Marc Chagall artwork and a white baby grand piano.

Its rooms are “lined with gold, and accented with precious metals like brass, onyx and silver”, the hotel says on its website.

It does not give prices but the list price of a similar facility in New York is $35,000 a night.

Who will pick up the bill for the North Koreans’ stay has been the subject of much speculation — the North’s economy has suffered from years of mismanagement and is now subject to multiple sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang has a history of trying to have others pay for its travel — Seoul paid for its delegates to this year’s Winter Olympics in the South.

But a Seoul presidential spokesman said it was “not considering it at all at the moment”, while the US has insisted it will not foot the bill — and is not asking anyone else to do so.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday his government was spending around Sg$20 million to host the summit, around half of it on security.

“It’s a cost that we are willing to pay. It’s our contribution to an international endeavour which is in our profound interests,” he said. He did not mention the North Koreans’ hotel bill.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2018

Opinion

Back to governance

Back to governance

While PDM has continued efforts to mount political pressure, it has been unable to force a crisis to challenge the PTI government.
Inequality virus
25 Jan 2021

Inequality virus

An Oxfam report calls for radical changes to the economic system.

Editorial

Updated 25 Jan 2021

Where the buck stops

The rights to due process and security of person are accorded to every individual in this country.
25 Jan 2021

PPP’s plan?

THE PDM faces a fresh crisis as the PPP takes a conspicuously soft position on the long march. While the PDM talks ...
25 Jan 2021

Forward guidance

THE State Bank has taken the unusual step of issuing a forward guidance in its latest monetary policy statement to...
Updated 24 Jan 2021

Delayed olive branch

THE PTI government has finally mustered up sufficient political prudence to extend an olive branch to the opposition...
24 Jan 2021

Bureaucracy reform

WHILE the intention behind the endeavour may be lauded, the civil service reform package unveiled by the government...
24 Jan 2021

Minority rights

ON Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to safeguard religious sites around the world,...