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Sunday, January 29, 2023


The Trump-Kim circus, I mean summit, is in town and the top question on locals’ minds: “why is Singapore paying $20M for this?”


Here’s my take:
1. The US can’t pay because a nuclear yet cash-poor North Korea sees it as insulting: https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/776055ce-9745-439e-9ee4-c0…

2. The US hinted to Singapore to pay, source: Singapore defense minister quoted in WaPo link above. This is key because it means US “owes” us a favor even if it’s just a small logistical detail.

3. Safeguarding Singapore’s FTA (Free Trade Agreement) partner status with an infamously anti-free-trade Trump: priceless. Trump just left all his G7 “allies” in Canada threatening a trade war. Last thing Singapore should do is stay on the sidelines and wait for Trump to call us out for “unfair” trade deals. Singapore has to step up and be counted. Paying $20M helps? Imagine how many more jobs or companies may suffer if trade margins get jeopardized.

Source: https://ustr.gov/countries…/southeast-asia-pacific/singapore


4. Ace-ing the tightrope walk of US-China geopolitics: China nearly kicked us out of One Belt One Road (OBOR) last year and our traditional ally USA has adopted an inward-looking policy under Trump. This is a fantastic opportunity to remind both world powers of our geopolitical presence and our unique role in international diplomacy as a middleman. Both China and US are among our top trade partners and maintaining a good relationship is key to our longer-term economic fortunes.

5. Burnish Singapore’s global brand of neutrality as “friend to all, enemy to none”: Singapore was picked as the host because it has the rare status of having good relations with hermit kingdom North Korea and the USA. China is a staunch ally of North Korea and while some in Beijing might be kicking their heels at missing out on a historic summit, they will be heartened to know they are only one arms-length away from a neutral 3rd party. See more on Singapore’s “first principles” of foreign policy here: https://www.straitstimes.com/…/five-core-principles-of-sing…

6. For my fellow Singapore citizens that are unhappy with us picking up the $20M tab, let’s have some perspective. Assume a hypothetical family makes $10,000 a year, what are they willing to spend 0.03% of it on? That’s $3…

Singapore’s 2017 budget is S$69B/ US$53B. Assuming $20M is USD, 0.03% is how much this summit costs the Singapore government, and its citizens. I cannot think of better ways to spend 0.03% of my annual income. If you are the Singapore Prime Minister in charge of short term and long term planning,how would you spend it better?

Source of budget figures: https://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/…/bud…/RevenueExpenditure


In short: $20M is a fantastically small price to pay for punching above our small country size and making a lasting impact on the global table where the major powers of US, China dine on. Forget North Korea, this isn’t really a summit for them as much as it is for securing Singapore’s political and economic relevance.

P.s. if you are still really unhappy and want to devote this meager $20M to reducing taxes or helping the needy, try reading this even more frivolous expense, and justification, for space exploration and why any nation should still do it: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html…

Source: Bjorn Lee


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