Photo from Ministry of Communication and Information

Trump Kim Summit – Singapore, a schoolboy trying to play a man’s game?

I am all for Singapore hosting international events of historic significance. It boosts our global reputation as a first world country that people want to visit and invest in. That said, the hosting of such events must promote the prestige of Singapore. It has to be professional and we have to come across polished and experienced, ready to stand in line with the powerful nations of the world. So, while Singapore has hit global headlines through the hosting of the Trump Kim Summit, I wonder if the correct balance between professionalism and gracious hosts have been struck? Do we come across as the consummate power broker or do we come across as a schoolboy trying to play a man’s game?

Firstly, there was the cringe-inducing wefie where our Minster for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan seemed to have confused a dictator for a pop star. It is also dubious honour that the international media has speculated that this is Kim’s first ever public selfie. Really, is this the kind of headline we want to generate?

Secondly, there is the issue of paying for Kim’s stay in Singapore Having already reportedly spent staggering millions on the summit, why are we still down for the bill of Kim’s stay? Does that not reek of desperation? Has the decision to foot the bill of his stay been debated at Parliament? I am pretty sure that Singaporeans ought to have a say in paying the expenses of a despot out of the public purse?

While I am all for Singapore wanting to play a role in international politics but perhaps we need to develop a procedure for the planning of such events. Certain things especially the spending of such a big sum of money to pay for a dictator to come to our country should really be more widely discussed and not decided carte blanche by a small group of people and presented to the public as fait accompli.

Thirdly, we have the birthday cake issue with Donald Trump. I suppose on the grander scheme of things, it is just a cake and if it is a cake that can make the most powerful man in the world happy, it is perhaps an effort well utilised. However, when taken in line with the now-viral wefie and the footing of the bill, are we being too try hard? The way Straits Times wrote about the effort that went into the cake made me recoil with embarrassment and discomfort. It wasn’t even his actual birthday! Being too try hard always reduces one’s bargaining power as it gives away our desperation. Singapore is a first world country. We should be selling our strengths. We are a safe country, clean, efficient and well placed for international events. Why are we acting like we are dogs waiting for crumbs at the master’s table. Are we portraying third world mentality despite being a first world country?

I hope for Singapore’s sake that the hosting of the summit and the global exposure from it will stand Singapore instead for other benefits. But what I do think we need to learn from this experience. Firstly, our leaders have to be more savvy and polished (less like teenagers meeting a rock star and more like men in positions of power). Secondly, we need to truly embrace the fact that we are a desirable location for any event. We don’t have to roll over and bend over backwards just to get a piece of the pie. Lastly, if we are to host more of such events, we need a procedure for getting public spending approved. Transparency and openness are paramount.

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