PM Lee Hsien Loong to meet President Donald Trump at White House on Oct 23

US President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017.
US President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON - United States President Donald Trump will welcome Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the White House on Oct 23, Mr Trump's press secretary announced on Tuesday (Oct 10).

"President Trump looks forward to reaffirming the relationship between the United States and Singapore, which has been one of America's closest partners in Asia for more than 50 years," she said.

"The President and Prime Minister will discuss ways to further strengthen our economic, political, security, and people-to-people ties, and work to advance United States engagement and mutual interests throughout the Indo-Pacific region."

The visit is likely to be seen as an opportunity for both countries to reaffirm their strong bilateral ties.

It also signals the Trump administration's continued engagement of the Asia-Pacific, coming just over a week before Mr Trump makes his maiden trip to the region as president. He has also hosted two Asean leaders - Malaysian PM Najib Razak and Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha - at the White House in the past month.

The Oct 23 meeting will be the second time PM Lee and Mr Trump are meeting, following their first meeting at the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders' Summit in Hamburg, Germany in July. Mr Trump had said he looked forward to receiving Mr Lee in Washington later this year.

At that meeting, both leaders committed to work together to advance the bilateral relationship, and Mr Lee said he looked forward to the president's participation in the annual round of key regional meetings in November.

The White House had last month announced that Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii from Nov 3 to 14. After visiting the three key East Asian countries, he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang before going on to the Philippines for the Asean-US Summit and East Asia Summit.

Mr Lee and Mr Trump also spoke over the phone in late August, when Mr Lee called to express his concern and sympathies over the loss of life in Hurricane Harvey. Mr Trump also accepted Singapore's offer of its Chinook helicopters based in Grand Prairie, Texas to assist in disaster relief efforts. The leaders also discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr Murray Hiebert, Senior Adviser and Deputy Director, Southeast Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told The Straits Times: "The two men will be able to get to know each other."

He noted that while the two countries have few significant issues to fix, it might be helpful if Mr Lee pointed out that the US-Singapore free trade agreement has contributed to the US' big and growing trade surplus with Singapore.

Dr Zachary Abuza, professor at the National War College in Washington DC, added that Singapore remains a highly valued security partner for the US - and remains a critical logistics hub for its Navy.

Ms Bonnie Glaser of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies told The Straits Times PM Lee's visit is timely. "Anxiety in the region about the United States has been growing and I think the visit provides an opportunity for PM Lee to convey regional concerns to President Trump and provide some suggestions about how to increase regional confidence and strengthen US ties with South-east Asia and Asean," she said.

"Singapore has always been a key partner of the US in the region and I expect this visit will serve to strengthen those ties."