Mon | Jan 17, 2022

‘Maximum-level’ security

Published:Tuesday | February 26, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Howard X (right), an Australian impersonating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, waves as Russel White, a US President Donald Trump impersonator, gestures from a car outside La Paix hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, yesterday.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) :

With North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on an armoured train barrelling through China towards Vietnam’s capital, and US President Donald Trump en route to Hanoi, Vietnamese officials scrambled yesterday to finish preparations for a rushed summit that will capture global attention.

Officials in Hanoi said they had about 10 days to prepare for the summit — much less than the nearly two months they said Singapore was given for the first Trump-Kim meeting last year— but still vowed to provide airtight security for the two leaders.

“Security will be at the maximum level,” Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Hoai Trung told reporters at a briefing meant to showcase the nation’s efforts to welcome Kim and Trump.

Another official, Nguyen Manh Hung, the leader of the information ministry, said the 3,000 journalists from 40 countries expected in Hanoi could rely on his agency as “you’d count on a family member”.

The world will be watching as Trump and Kim deal with one of Asia’s biggest security challenges: North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear programme that stands on the verge of viably threatening any target on the planet.

Although many experts are sceptical that Kim will give up the nukes he likely sees as his best guarantee of continued rule, there was a palpable, carnival-like excitement among many in Hanoi as the final preparations were put in place.

T-shirts were being sold bearing Kim’s face along with the phrase ‘Rocket Man’, a nod to the insulting nickname Trump gave Kim in 2017, when North Korean weapons tests and back-and-forth threats by the leaders had many fearing war. Kindergarteners dressed in traditional Korean Hanbok were practising songs meant to welcome Kim. Grinning tourists were posing in front of the hundreds of US and North Korean flags around the city.

The ultra-tight security will be appreciated by North Korean authorities, who are extremely vigilant about the safety of Kim, the third member of his family to rule the North with absolute power. Kim’s decision to take a train, not a plane, may have been influenced by a better ability to control security. When Kim flew to Singapore, North Korea borrowed a Chinese plane.

Vietnam is eager to show off its huge economic and development improvements since the destruction of the Vietnam War, but the country also tolerates no dissent and is able to provide the kind of firm hand not allowed by more democratic potential hosts.

Take the reaction to two men impersonating Kim and Trump who’d been posing for pictures with curious onlookers ahead of the summit.

Last week, the Kim lookalike, whose name is Lee Howard Ho Wun, posted on Facebook that about 15 police or immigration officers demanded a mandatory “interview” and threatened him with deportation. He said officials later told him that his visa was invalid and he had to leave the country.

“I feel a little bit annoyed,” the Hong Kong-based impersonator, who uses the name Howard X, said as he checked out of his hotel. “But what is to be expected of a one-party state with no sense of humour?”