Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Trump-Kim Singapore summit, 12 June 2018

United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold historic talks in Singapore

First step on long road to peace

• US and North Korea to establish new relations
• Both will join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean peninsula
• North Korea commits to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula
• US and North Korea commit to recovering remains of prisoners of war
By Rahul Pathak, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2018

On Sentosa, an island named after peace, the United States and North Korea yesterday signed a deal that they said would defuse decades of hostility between the two countries.

Calling the meeting between their leaders "historic" and "epochal", the joint statement declared that North Korea was committed to complete denuclearisation of the peninsula, while the US would provide it with security guarantees.

The US will also suspend its war games with South Korea to soothe nerves in the North. It will reset ties with Pyongyang, and North Korea's leader will be invited to the White House at an appropriate time.

The build-up to the summit, and the pact it would produce, had been breathless. Thousands of media personnel had descended upon Singapore and people lined the streets early yesterday to catch a glimpse of the motorcades of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they made their way from their downtown hotels to the venue.

Mr Trump further hyped hopes of a breakthrough when the two men took a stroll across the lawns of Capella hotel and he was asked about how the talks had gone.

"Better than anybody could have expected, top of the line, really good. We are going right now for a signing," he told reporters before the agreement was unveiled.

But the vague wording and lack of details left observers divided over the document's place in history.

Some - including several world leaders - said it was the first, meaningful step in a long journey that could eventually make the world a safer place.

Others were underwhelmed and said it left key issues unresolved, with neither a timetable for denuclearisation nor the insistence that it be verifiable and irreversible.

Mr Trump, who said he had not slept in 25 hours while the two camps negotiated, dismissed such scepticism.

"It is a great day in the history of the world," he told the media. Facing questions standing on his feet for more than an hour after Mr Kim's motorcade had driven off, he added: "Chairman Kim is leaving for North Korea and as soon as he is back, he is going to start a process to make people safe."

In the meantime, the sanctions that have crippled North Korea's economy would remain, he said.

Interspersing his answers with an acknowledgement of his own abilities and praise for the man he had negotiated with - for 45 minutes in person, two hours with their teams and then over a working lunch of prawn cocktail, Korean stuffed cucumber, beef short rib confit and sweet-and-sour pork - Mr Trump waved away the lack of details in the document.

He said North Korea's denuclearisation would still have to be complete, verifiable and irreversible - something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said, a day earlier, was the minimum condition for a deal. "I wouldn't have signed any agreement if they did not agree to that."

Mr Trump said there had been no time to incorporate those clauses in the document. "I am only here for a day," he added.

Asked about a timeframe in which North Korea would dismantle its weapons, Mr Trump refused to pin down a date. "We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done," he said. "It could take a long time."

He also touched on details that did not find their way into the short, written agreement. He revealed that Mr Kim had promised to destroy a nuclear missile engine testing site.

"I got that after we signed the agreement. I said do me a favour. You have this missile engine testing site... I said can you close it up. He is going to close it up," said Mr Trump.

The US has decided to put on hold the war games it routinely conducts with South Korea - a development that took some observers by surprise.

"The military exercises that we conduct are tremendously expensive. Our bombers fly in all the way from Guam... It is a very provocative situation (for North Korea). We will also save a lot of money," he said.

The exercises that the US conducts with South Korea have been a sore point with the North, which says they threaten its security.

Yesterday, Mr Trump, who turns 72 tomorrow, was willing to see the point of view of the 34-year-old Chairman of North Korea's State Affairs Commission, whom he once dubbed "Rocket Man".

Saying that Mr Kim was committed to seeing his country become prosperous in return for giving up his nuclear arsenal, Mr Trump said: "He is very talented. They have never had a leader with the ability and confidence to get things done."

The endorsement came just seven hours after Mr Trump had first set eyes on Mr Kim.

The grounds of the Capella hotel were teeming with special agents - one American paired with one North Korean - when the two motorcades arrived in the morning. At 9.05am, the two leaders walked into the hotel courtyard from opposite sides of the colonnade and shook hands for exactly 12 seconds.

Mr Kim then spoke before a global audience for the first time beyond his backyard to say in Korean: "It wasn't easy to get here. We were held back by the past and blocked by old practices and prejudices. But we overcame all obstacles and here we are today."

The serious business of hammering out this agreement was conducted around a 79-year-old teak conference table once used by Singapore's chief justices which was even older than the Korean War between the two countries that broke out in 1950.

By 1.38pm, the document to cap the summit was ready for signing, Before that, a North Korean official wearing gloves appeared to clean and inspect the pen on Mr Kim's side of the table.

Mr Kim declared the agreement as a new beginning, saying the "world will see a major change".

Mr Trump said later that he had known immediately upon meeting Mr Kim that he was willing to make a deal. "My whole life has been about making deals, and I am great at it," he said.

Congratulating both men on their joint statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to them, saying: "It is a crucial first move in the long journey towards lasting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."

Later, last evening, Mr Trump and Mr Kim boarded planes to their own countries for the next step on the long, sometimes rocky, road to peace.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Trump-Kim summit: $20 million bill to host US-North Korea meeting in Singapore

It's "a cost we are willing to pay", and Singapore must step up and do a good job, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of landmark June 12 summit
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2018

The bill for hosting the historic Trump-Kim summit will come up to about $20 million, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, adding that this is Singapore's contribution to an international endeavour that is "in our profound interest". "It is a cost we are willing to pay," he said, adding that security costs would account for about half that figure.

Speaking to the Singapore media yesterday during a visit to the international media centre, Mr Lee noted that the summit is a very major operation, due to - among other things - its scale, the number of journalists here to cover it and the level of security required.

The security requirements are much higher than for previous meetings because of the profile of this summit and the nature of what is being discussed, he added.

Delving into some of the details, he said it involves not just cordons of policemen around the meeting venue but "all-round protection and in-depth protection - air, sea, land, against attack and against mishap".

"So this is a very major operation, because it's a high-profile meeting and we cannot afford to have anything go wrong."

Mr Lee also said Singapore might be able to recoup some of the costs of hosting the summit. Asked to elaborate, he replied: "If you calculate the price of everything in this world, you will miss out on the real important things. And in this case what is important is that the summit is held, and we are hosting it, not extravagantly but with due consideration to costs, but making sure operational requirements are met."

Besides the security bill, another substantial part of the costs is from facilitating the 2,500-strong contingent of journalists here. A Ministry of Communications and Information source said that this - including the set-up of the international media centre at the F1 Pit Building - comes in at around $5 million.

The $20 million bill for the summit is a fraction of the $150 million spent each year to host past editions of the Formula One race.

The issue of cost has, however, raised questions among some Singaporeans, who have also chafed at having to contend with restricted access and road closures.

Asked about this, Mr Lee said that what is important to keep in mind is the significance of the summit and also what hosting it successfully could mean for Singapore.

It is, he said, not just a whole-of-government effort, but a "whole of Singapore effort", involving people ranging from press officers to bomb disposal unit experts.

It also includes ordinary Singaporeans whose lives have been "a little bit inconvenienced because roads have been cordoned off and traffic jams can happen - I hope you will understand this is for a good cause, it is a national effort, and I hope we will all be able to work together to show the world what Singapore can do".

Yesterday, Mr Lee also visited Singapore Armed Forces troops deployed at Palawan Kidz City on Sentosa, and the Home Team command post in Novena. "The officers have done a good job under very pressed circumstances," he said, pointing to the short notice given. It was only two weeks ago that it was confirmed the summit was going ahead.

It is not easy to find a suitable location to host such a meeting, observed Mr Lee, as both the Americans and the North Koreans must agree on a venue that meets their requirements and is politically and diplomatically acceptable to them.

"Therefore, when the two sides asked us to host the meeting, we cannot say no," he said. "We have to step up... We can do a good job."

The summit is a plus for Singapore, in terms of its reputation, its standing and "how people look at us", he added. "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 agreed - says something about Singapore's relations with the parties, with America, with North Korea, also our standing in the international community."

Singapore is one of the few countries that have diplomatic relations with both sides. Mr Lee added: "I think people will sit up and say, why is this meeting happening in Singapore, and they will draw their conclusions, and they will see how things are run. And I'm sure that we will be able to show what Singapore can do, so I think it's a plus for Singapore."

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Singapore tops global survey on safety: Gallup's Law and Order Index 2017

Singaporeans feel safest in world: 2018 Global Law and Order Report
Nation tops global poll that asked residents on safety at night and confidence in police
By Noel Low, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2018

For at least the fifth year running, Singaporeans feel safer than residents of any other place in the world, a global study has found.

Research firm Gallup says 94 per cent of adults here feel safe walking alone at night, compared with the global average of 68 per cent.

Singapore tops the list in the Law and Order Index, ahead of Norway, Iceland and Finland. Hong Kong and Uzbekistan are joint fifth.

The result is consistent with other studies. The World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2017-2018 ranked Singapore first for order and security. Singapore was ranked the world's safest city in the 2017 Global Smart City Performance Index published this year.

The 2018 Global Law and Order Report, released yesterday, interviewed close to 150,000 residents in 142 countries and areas last year.

Respondents were also asked about their confidence in the local police, and whether they had been recent victims of crime.

Ms Nicole Naurath, Gallup world poll regional director for Asia, said the result was no surprise as "Singapore emphasises safety and security throughout all facets of society as a means to ensure its prosperity".

Mr Toby Koh, group managing director of Ademco Security Group, said Singapore's reputation for security is a key reason many global firms set up their headquarters here, adding that "safety and security is paramount to top management".

He said that there are also personal considerations - employees bring their families along when they come to work here.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Differentiate between relative and absolute poverty to fight inequality

Associate Professor Teo You Yenn describes the desire for decent jobs, better housing and other conditions as "basic needs" (Let's talk about meeting needs, not just equality of opportunity; May 30). These needs are absolute not relative.

Whether 10 per cent or all of the population have these needs unmet doesn't change the fact that our Government should strive to provide better jobs, better housing and better lives for the people.

Inequality does not change this.

When Singapore was young and undeveloped, there was less inequality, as many people were equally poor - in fact, it was probably even more urgent for the Government to make sure that basic needs were met, because more people could not meet them.

Just because inequality has worsened does not make these priorities any more or less important.

It is important to distinguish between absolute poverty and relative poverty when thinking about inequality because it affects the sort of policies we implement.

If we believe that absolute poverty should be ameliorated, policies should gear towards some redistribution to ensure that those at the bottom of society get a minimum standard of living.

The challenge for all societies is to define what that minimum standard is and how much to redistribute. These disagreements are the reason for divisions in political ideologies and parties.

Relative poverty, or inequality, is a lot more complicated.

One could, for the sake of a thought experiment, imagine a nation of millionaires where everyone's basic needs are met, but a predominance of billionaires causes income inequality to be very high.

In such a scenario, it would be absurd to argue for a redistribution of income to equalise outcomes.

However, it does not mean that all is well in such a state.

Inequality causes division and stratification in society.

In this instance, the right policy will not be redistribution per se, but rather, to reduce stratification.

For example, building better houses per se in such an imagined nation will not be as urgent as ensuring that people of all income levels reside in close proximity with one another, and are forced to interact.

The priority will not be to equalise outcomes, but to ensure that society remains cohesive.

It is, thus, imperative for us to think clearly about inequality and not mistake relative poverty for absolute poverty.

Mixing up the two will result in inappropriate policy responses that solve neither problem.

Calvin Cheng Ern Lee
ST Forum, 6 Jun 2018

Thursday, 7 June 2018

PAP Old Guard minister Jek Yeun Thong dies, aged 87

The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2018

A chapter of Singapore's history came closer to an end on Sunday, when one of only two surviving members of the People's Action Party Old Guard leaders died.

Mr Jek Yeun Thong, 87, died peacefully in his sleep at home, with his family around him, his son Jek Kian Yee, 55, told The Straits Times yesterday.

He also said that in accordance with his father's wishes, the family had a private wake and funeral, which was held on Tuesday.

As a mark of respect, and in recognition of his contributions to Singapore, the state flag on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast today, June 7, the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday.

Mr Jek was among the 10 men who put their names on the Independence of Singapore Agreement on Aug 9, 1965, when Singapore left Malaysia and became independent.

The remaining member of the group is former education minister Ong Pang Boon, 89.

President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday led the tributes paid to the Mr Jek, who had held ministerial portfolios in labour, culture, and science and technology, as well as served as high commissioner to the United Kingdom and ambassador to Denmark.

He made many contributions in his 25 years of public service - from mobilising the Chinese ground to upholding a multi-racial Singapore and advocating a Singaporean identity.

Watch live World Cup 2018 matches for free at 55 community clubs islandwide: People's Association

All 64 World Cup matches to be screened live - and for free - at community clubs
Over 600,000 expected to catch games, many of which will kick off before midnight
By Muhammad Sazali Abdul Aziz, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2018

The People's Association (PA) is expecting more than 600,000 residents to throng community clubs (CCs) around Singapore for live screenings of World Cup football matches, after it announced yesterday that all 64 matches of the June 14 to July 15 Russia World Cup will be shown for free.

The PA started screening World Cup matches at CCs in 2010, and this is the first time all 64 games will be beamed live, although not every CC will show every game.

This year's initiative is in partnership with Singapore Pools, Singtel and StarHub.

Four years ago, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, the public screenings drew a total of 570,000 residents. The PA is expecting a bigger turnout this year as the kick-off times in Russia are friendlier for Singapore fans.

The earliest game is the Group C match between France and Australia, which will kick off at 6pm (Singapore time) on June 16.

There are nine games which will start at 8pm, one at 9pm (Group D clash between Argentina and Iceland), 15 games at 10pm, and 11 at 11pm, including the final on July 15.

The rest of the matches will kick off between midnight and 3am.

In 2014, play started only after midnight, Singapore time.

Ms Pearly Seah, the PA's director for youth and sports, said: "We are excited to be able to offer live screenings of the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia to residents... Although the World Cup only happens once every four years, it unites people regardless of age and race as they cheer on their favourite teams."

Most of the screenings will be held at the CCs' multi-purpose halls, auditoriums, theatrettes and sheltered outdoor facilities, and selected CCs will also make arrangements for food and beverages to be either sold or provided to residents.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Ministers, please speak plainly to the people

Plain speech also about telling the hard truth

Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang is correct (Ministers, please speak plainly to the people; June 3): Ministers should, indeed, speak plainly to the people.

This does not only mean using simple language that people understand. It also means telling people the truth.

This is what the PAP government has been doing for close to 60 years. Ministers and MPs spend considerable time on the ground hearing from citizens, answering their questions and explaining policies.

And as Mr Han knows well, this Government has never flinched from telling people “hard truths to keep Singapore going”. He once helped edit a book with that title.

The most recent example is the Budget speech, where Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that it will be necessary to raise the Goods and Services Tax in the next term of Government, and explained clearly why.

Unfortunately, some opposition MPs sought to avoid debating this issue in Parliament, preferring to wait till the heat of the hustings, when emotions, rather than reason, rule.

The injunction to "speak plainly" applies to journalists and commentators too.

Mr Han begins by urging ministers to speak plainly - to use simple language. His column then morphs into a dare to ministers to make sweeping promises.

For example, he wants ministers to assure people that if they had "a full working life in Singapore, in any job... when you retire at 65, you will have enough to live a good and decent life".

"We will make sure it happens," Mr Han urges ministers to say, "don't worry about the details or how we will do it."

But plain speaking about adequate retirement would also entail telling people some "hard truths".

For example, the Central Provident Fund scheme is adequate for most Singaporeans, and Silver Support will help top up for those who did not earn much while working.

However, as people live longer, their needs in old age will go up. Then, we will have to work longer, save more while working, or have less to spend in retirement.

Voters in many countries, developed and developing, have learnt through bitter experience what happens when unrealistic election promises are broken.

Politicians and journalists who advocate simplistic policies lose credibility, faith in democracy is undermined, and ultimately, voters or their children bear the cost.

The easiest five words to utter in politics are: "I promise you free lunches." But that's not plain speech. That's pandering and populism.

Lim Yuin Chien
Press Secretary to the Minister for Finance
ST Forum, 5 Jun 2018

Younger Singapore leaders will build on and improve ties with China: Heng Swee Keat

By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Nanjing, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2018

Even as Singapore undergoes leadership renewal and transition, its younger leaders will continue to build on and improve ties with China, visiting Finance Minister Heng Sweet Keat said yesterday.

In an address to 200 students and faculty members of Nanjing University, Mr Heng pointed to current leaders, like Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who have, over the years, built a "longstanding and close friendship" with their counterparts from China.

He noted that DPM Teo, head of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, has been described by former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli as an "old and good friend".

"It is our hope that as the younger leaders in Singapore step up to the helm, new friends will also become old friends and good friends," said Mr Heng, a member of the fourth-generation (4G) leadership.

Mr Heng, who is on the fifth day of a nine-day working visit to China, left for Shanghai yesterday.

Besides the dialogue, he also visited the university's artificial intelligence lab, and met Jiangsu governor Wu Zhenglong yesterday.

Today, he will travel to Beijing, where he is scheduled to meet Chinese leaders.

During his 40-minute speech in Nanjing, Mr Heng said it was timely to explore how to take the mutually beneficial cooperation between Singapore and China to the next level.

Mr Heng, who co-chairs the Singapore Jiangsu Cooperation Council, one of seven such councils to promote economic exchange and cooperation, also said that linkages between the two countries would be based on each nation dealing with its internal challenges and opportunities and working with each other to advance common interests.

He laid out three of Singapore's important leadership and governance principles.