After weeks of negotiations, North Korea and the US may not have progressed towards a deal on nuclear weapons, but they have at least decided on a luxurious setting for their leaders to meet next week – the Capella hotel on the Singaporean island of Sentosa.
The location for the historic summit on June 12 between Donald Trump, the US president, and Kim Jong-un, was finally announced on Tuesday by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.
“We thank our great Singaporean hosts for their hospitality,” she said on Twitter, after confirming the location of the first ever meeting of a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
Where is Sentosa?
The secluded island of Sentosa, a quarter of a mile from the city state’s southeast coast, is Singapore’s premier holiday resort which, despite measuring less than two square miles and having a resident population of just 1,690, welcomes a remarkable 20 million tourists a year.
The name Sentosa means “peace and tranquility” and the island boasts three beaches, a clutch of high-end hotels, two of the best golf courses in Asia, and a string of family attractions, including the Universal Studios Singapore theme park, a branch of Madame Tussauds, a 110-metre observation tower, a butterfly park and the region’s largest oceanarium. Its biggest hotel and entertainment complex, Resorts World Sentosa, cost an incredible $6.59bn to build.
It’s not to everyone’s taste, of course. Max Davidson, writing for Telegraph Travel, described it as “not for the squeamish… a grimly Disney-like resort, with in-your-face leisure attractions, that brings an unwelcome hint of Florida to south-east Asia.”
Given the garish interiors found at Donald Trump’s chain of hotels, and on his private jet, he may feel right at home.
Evelyn Chen, our Singapore expert, agreed with Davidson’s assesment. She added: “The saving grace has always been the three Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon restaurant, the city’s only three-star dining establishment, which may cater to representatives’ appetites should caviar, foie gras and credit card-denting wines appear on the radar after meetings. It is closing its doors at the end of the month, however.
Alternatively, Trump and Kim would do well to take a motorcade out to two Michelin-starred Odette for a modern French meal or the one-starred Corner House where Prime Minister Lee had lunch with the visiting President of China, Xi Jinping, in 2015.”
Sentosa also harbours a dark past, and was known until 1972 by the Malay name “Pulau Blakang Mati”, which means “Island of Death from Behind.” The exact origins of the ominous moniker are uncertain but one account attributes it to the murder and piracy once associated with the region. Another refers to an outbreak of disease in the 1840s that almost wiped out Sentosa’s entire population.
Its more recent history is equally horrific. Following the surrender of Allied Forces in February 1942, the island was turned into a prisoner of war camp, housing Australian and British prisoners of Japanese forces.
Sentosa also became the execution site for Singaporean Chinese who were suspected of anti-Japanese activities. A now tranquil 1.2-mile beach, next to the 18-hole Serapong golf course, was one of the island’s killing fields.
A hotel with a British colonial past
The five-star Capella offers the privacy required for Kim and Trump to get down to the serious business of world peace.
It was first built in the 1880s to accommodate the British officers of the Royal Artillery and their families and the four original military buildings were given conservation status in August 2000.
It reopened in March 2009 as a luxurious holiday resort after the buildings were restored and the main reception and guest villas redesigned by the British architect Lord Norman Foster.
North Korea’s fiery relationship with the US
The curved building with colonial-style architecture is a haven of 112 rooms situated in 30 acres of tropical gardens. Its most opulent suite, the Colonial Manor, is a black and white bungalow with three bedrooms, a stately dining room, study room and a private swimming pool.
Located at the end of a quiet lane, the Capella is no stranger to VIPs and celebrities who enjoy its privacy. In 2016, the Queen of Pop, Madonna, reportedly stayed there after her first concert in Singapore, following in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, who enjoyed its grand surroundings in 2012.
“Perched atop a knoll overlooking the South China Sea, Capella is one of few properties in Singapore to sit on prized sea-fronting land,” writes Evelyn Chen. “Villas come with an outdoor rain shower, private plunge pool and spacious veranda, and are surrounded by verdant vegetation – a luxury of space that is rare in Singapore. The most luxurious lodges have living areas from 4,209 square feet and large outdoor private pools each measuring 4.5m x 9.5m.”
Although just a ten-minute drive from Singapore’s bustling centre, the island’s isolated geographical position makes it easy to secure.
The causeway connecting Sentosa to the city state can be closed off to traffic, and the Singaporean authorities have designated part of the island surrounding the Capella as a special security zone for the duration of the summit.
According to official government information, banned items include weapons, flares and drones. The new security measures will also include “spot checks” including bag, body and identification checks.