This week in Singapore two of the world’s greatest fake news artists will be putting on a show for over 3,000 journalists to broadcast to their audiences back home. The venue chosen for this historic event is not the main island of Singapore but a smaller island connected to Singapore by a bridge. This island is called Sentosa.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence but Sentosa is an incredibly appropriate place for these two politicians to meet. Let me tell you why.
Before the war there was not much on Sentosa. Singapore itself was nothing like the highly advanced and prosperous nation it is now. The smart shops and cafés that line the streets of Singapore today did not exist back then. Much of the population lived in slums – packed forty to a floor in the tiny cabins that had to serve as homes to the poor. So Sentosa, with its difficult access, had been left largely undeveloped. The main point of interest at that time was a fort at Siloso Point. This had been built by the British to guard the entrance to the strategically important Keppel Harbour.
When Singapore was overrun by the Japanese, Sentosa became a prison camp. The horrors of prisoner of war treatment in that time and place have been well documented so I will not dwell on them here, suffice to say that Singaporeans were left with deep scars that forever tainted their memories of Sentosa.
Singapore eventually revived and the process of turning it into the bustling metropolitan nation it is today had to include a plan for Sentosa. Believing it to be haunted by its horrific past, few Singaporeans wanted to live there so what use could it be put to? The plan they came up with showed a touch of genius. The ghosts of the war were to be banished by branding it as ‘The Nation of Fun.’ A theme park was built over part of the island, the beach area was developed for bathers and fun-seekers. On the rest of the island you can now find luxury hotels, a golf course and a huge cable car system for tourists. The far end has been developed as upmarket housing in an ex-pat enclave with smart restaurants bordering a marina filled with millionaire’s yachts. Siloso Fort with its grim history has been recycled as another visitor attraction.
The beach swimming is sometimes marred by oil slicks from the vast container ships that crowd around the Straits like a second city on water. The pristine, imported sand suffers from oceans of plastic waste washing up so fast that even daily cleaning cannot efface it. Nonetheless, if the beach club turns its music up loud enough and serves the cocktails fast enough, you could easily believe that you are at some swanky Californian hangout.
It’s been very, very well done but it’s all fake. And that perhaps is the reason it has been chosen as the meeting point for two of the greatest showmen on the world stage.