National Day Rally 2016: Singapore must keep good ties with US and China, says PM Lee

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Barack Obama at the official welcome ceremony at the White House.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Barack Obama at the official welcome ceremony at the White House.PHOTO: MCI
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Mrs Lee hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Botanic Gardens on Nov 7, 2015.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Mrs Lee hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at the Botanic Gardens on Nov 7, 2015.PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - Fresh from an official visit to the United States, and ahead of a trip to China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 21) articulated the importance of Singapore maintaining good relations with both countries.

Noting that China President Xi Jinping recently said the US and China should cultivate common circles of friends, Mr Lee said Singapore aims to be within those circles.

This is because the continued engagement of both countries in the Asia-Pacific has been good for the region.

The US brings trade and investments while maintaining security and stability, allowing countries to thrive and compete peacefully.

China's increasing prosperity since embarking on economic reform 40 years ago has also benefited Asia and the world.

"An unstable and backward China will cause Asia great trouble, as happened in the 1950s and 1960s," he said.

Mr Lee was hosted to a state dinner in the White House earlier this month, the first for a Singapore Prime Minister in more than three decades.

The official visit was "a signal that the US values its friends and partners, and appreciates Singapore's support for the role that America has played in the Asia-Pacific for more than 70 years", he added.


Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew being hosted by then US President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1985. PHOTO: TOMMY KOH

 
 
 

Next month, he will visit China, including Chongqing, where the third government-led project between China and Singapore was launched last November.

The US and China strive to be on good terms, he said, as both believe the Pacific is vast enough to accommodate the two powers, which view their presence in the region as vital to their national interest.

But difficulties have cropped up before, he noted, such as when Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism in 1994.

Also, issues with China have surfaced when it felt Singapore did not sufficiently defer to its interests, Mr Lee said.

"Sometimes the interests of our friends will conflict, and we will be pressured to choose sides," he added.

For instance, foreign media has criticised Singapore for not siding more with their countries on the issue of the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, have competing territorial claims.

Singaporeans with Chinese business partners and contacts may hear from them that any tension between Singapore and China will hurt business and collaboration, Mr Lee said.

He acknowledged such concerns, but assured Singaporeans that Singapore's relationship with China is much broader than the single South China Sea issue.

He pointed to the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, a major government-to-government project which follows the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-city.

Also, Singapore is working with China on the "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure and economic strategy, and participating in the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Mr Lee reiterated that on the South China Sea, Singapore does not take sides on the specific claims of any country. Instead, it has to uphold its own independent and considered stance so that Singapore's hard-earned reputation as a credible and reliable entity on the international stage can be maintained.

"We want good relations with other countries, if at all possible, but we must also be prepared for ups and downs from time to time," he said.