Singapore-US relationship is deep, very sound: PM Lee

In the interview with CNBC anchor Christine Tan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on various topics, including Singapore's ties with the US, ahead of his visit to Washington, which begins today.
In the interview with CNBC anchor Christine Tan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on various topics, including Singapore's ties with the US, ahead of his visit to Washington, which begins today.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Ties are based on congruence of views, close cooperation over the years, he says in CNBC interview

Singapore has a deep and multi-faceted relationship with the United States, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes to develop it further on his visit to Washington which begins today.

In an interview with US news channel CNBC released yesterday, he said: "It is a very sound relationship that is based on a basic strategic congruence of views about the world and the region, and deep cooperation over many years, in the economic sphere, trade, investments, in defence and security."

PM Lee also hopes to underline the point that Asia is important to the US, and the US should cultivate its relations and continue to contribute to its peace and stability.

"We have long depended on an America which has got a clear sense of its stakes in the world and how much it depends on the world as well as how much the world and its allies and friends depend on the United States of America, and we hope this will continue," he added.

The official working visit, at President Donald Trump's invitation, comes shortly before Mr Trump's first visit to Asia as president.

CNBC anchor Christine Tan had asked PM Lee how he would describe Mr Trump. He was also asked about the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Singapore's relations with the US and China, and North Korea.

On Mr Trump, he said: "He is confident of himself. There are things which he wants to do, he has a very set view of the world and of people. And we will work with him. He has been elected, he has a mandate from the American voters and he represents the United States of America."

MAINTAINING FRIENDSHIPS

If there are tensions between America and China, we will be asked to pick a side... We hope not to have to pick sides. We have such substantial relations with both.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on managing ties with the US and China.

PM Lee also noted every administration has a settling-in process.

"Perhaps the adjustment is bigger in this case because President Trump represented such a radically different rethink to so many things which the American policy intelligentsia had considered to be shared conventional wisdom. But reality and forces of events press down on every president," he said.

As for the TPP, its remaining 11 members are discussing how to take it forward ahead of next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. "We hope we will be able to get somewhere," said PM Lee, adding that the volume of trade between the US and the region is substantial, "and we hope it would still be able to grow".

"These are very big stakes we have in each other and which will continue. We had hoped that with the TPP, that would have given it an extra boost. That was not to be. But we have what we have and we will find other ways to take it forward."

On ties with China, which PM Lee visited last month, he said: "We are forward looking. We are two countries and sovereign countries, so there will always be issues where we do not completely see eye to eye. But fundamentally, there are no basic conflicts in our perspectives and we both wish to do more together bilaterally and in the context of Asean."

Singapore chairs Asean next year, and has been coordinating its dialogue relations with China. "We both want to make the relationship prosper. In fact, there is a lot we are doing together," he said.

Asked about lessons from issues faced with China last year, PM Lee said: "We understand each other's position clearer now."

He added: "It is clear. But events happen, and then we react to events and then the positions have to be restated, clarified. In the case of the South China Sea, our position has always been that we are not the claimant state. We have no claims. So, we do not take sides on those claims: Who owns which island.

"But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, in the rule of international law, in the peaceful resolution of disputes, and in Asean having a role in an issue which is this important in our neighbourhood. I think that bears repeating."

Asked if it was getting difficult to manage ties with the US and China, he said this depends on how the US relationship with China develops. "If that stays stable and good, then it is easier for Singapore," he said.

"If there are tensions between America and China, we will be asked to pick a side. It may not be directly, but you will get the message that: We would like you to be with us and are you with us. If not, does that mean you are against us? And that is to put it gently," PM Lee said.

"We hope not to have to pick sides. We have such substantial relations with both," he added.

"We hope we will be able to maintain these relationships."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore-US relationship is deep, very sound: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe