SEOUL (Reuters) - Denuclearization of North Korea is the headline topic at Tuesday’s summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, but for North Korean officials traveling to Singapore, their top priority is much narrower: protecting their leader.
Security for Kim Jong Un at his first meeting with Trump is expected to be ultra-tight, with measures likely surpassing those seen at the April 27 inter-Korean summit, experts and analysts say.
In late April, 12 lanky male bodyguards made international headlines after they surrounded Kim Jong Un’s Mercedes-Benz vehicle and jogged alongside it whenever the North Korean leader moved across the border.
April’s display may have been more a show for live television. Now North Korean officials will almost certainly emphasize preventing any sudden mishaps in Kim Jong Un’s first visit to a foreign country other than China or South Korea since taking power, said Kim Doo-hyun, professor of protection politics at Korea National Sport University.
“As the venue and time of the summit have already been announced, security for Kim Jong Un will be tighter than for any other VIPs,” said the professor, who was the first academic to establish a university major in South Korea on guarding and protection. “I think we can presume that North Korea made more demands to Singapore than the United States did in terms of security.”
He added in addition to using bulletproof vehicles, North Korea’s security detail would likely deploy layers of protection surrounding the summit venue and try to divert attention from Kim Jong Un’s car whenever he moves.
“We’ll most likely see an unprecedented scale of protection on land, sea and air as this summit is the biggest issue in the world right now,” said Chae Kyou-chir, chief executive of Top Guard, a prominent South Korean security and protection firm.
“Kim Jong Un is revered as a god-like being in his country, while outside the North, he’s been subject to hostility because of the way his regime is run, and that’s enough to always cause safety concerns for his officials,” said Chae.
The North Korean leader is also likely to be served food prepared by a traveling chef from the North, Chae added.
Kim’s chief of staff was spotted in Beijing last week after wrapping up talks with U.S. officials in Singapore which had included security discussions.
On his flight to Singapore, Kim Chang Son was filmed by Japanese broadcaster TBS looking at documents that read: “To guarantee success of the (U.S.-North Korea) summit, the first and second priorities will be to ensure the safety of Chairman Kim Jong Un”.
In addition to protection, the North Korean delegation may fine-tune its security detail to project a particular image for Kim Jong Un, said Ahn Chan-il, a defector and current president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
“Kim Jong Un might bring good looking female bodyguards to embody a more approachable image,” Ahn said.
This would further reinforce the softer image Kim Jong Un has enjoyed in South Korea after the inter-Korean summit.
In April, North Korean security staff meticulously wiped down with disinfectant the chair Kim Jong Un would be sitting in while signing the visitor’s book at the Peace House within the border village of Panmunjom in April.
They did the same for the visitor’s book and the pen, the latter of which Kim did not use.
Other security personnel were spotted using equipment to sweep the room for explosives or recording devices.
“We might see a similar scale of security personnel from North Korea and safety protocols as we did in April, but they’ll also have help from Singapore like special vehicles and agents,” said Cho Seong-ryoul, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy.
North Korea may also be aided by its biggest ally, China, when Kim Jong Un flies to Singapore. Beijing is considering deploying fighter jets to escort Kim Jong Un’s aircraft when it is in Chinese airspace, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said, citing an unnamed source in Beijing.
The summit venue, roads and hotels in Singapore will be secured by the Gurkha Contingent of the Singaporean police, according to diplomats familiar with VIP security in the island state.
The southern resort island of Sentosa, where the summit will be held, has been added to the list of special event areas by the Singaporean government during the week of the summit.
As a result, police will make stricter checks of people and personal property and items such as public address systems and remotely piloted aircraft systems will be prohibited in the special event areas.
Cho added Singapore wouldn’t have a difficult time providing a secure location for North Korea as the country is often named one of the safest in the world.
Singapore airspace will be restricted during the summit, according to a notice to airmen posted by aviation authorities last Wednesday, which is likely to result in delays at one of Asia’s busiest airports.
Reporting by Christine Kim and Joori Roh; Writing by Christine Kim; Editing by Gerry Doyle