S'pore, US reaffirm ties as PM meets top officials

They discuss issues including South China Sea tensions, TPP trade pact

THE importance of the strategic and economic ties between Singapore and the United States was reaffirmed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's meetings with top US officials on Wednesday.

Mr Lee met US Vice-President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as well as several US lawmakers. US President Barack Obama dropped by during Mr Lee's meeting with Ms Rice.

In their meeting - the third since April last year - Mr Biden thanked Mr Lee for having Singapore take a leading role in "shaping a more peaceful and prosperous South-east Asia", the White House said in a statement.

The two also discussed "mutual concerns over a pattern of destabilising behaviour in the South China Sea", where China has been clashing with South-east Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines over competing claims in the potentially energy- rich waters.

Both sides repeated their shared interest in "international law, freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes", the White House added.

Neither the US nor Singapore takes a stand on the validity of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea. But the US has pointed the finger at China's "destabilising" actions in the waters, which has angered Beijing.

Mr Biden also reiterated the US' commitment to rebalancing towards Asia, which has become a major feature of the Obama administration's foreign policy.

He highlighted US efforts to engage the region, such as through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact that will bind 12 nations covering 40 per cent of the global economy, including Singapore and the US. Mr Lee and Mr Biden agreed on the importance of successfully concluding an ambitious, high-standard TPP as soon as possible, the White House statement said.

With Ms Rice, Mr Lee discussed ways the US could engage even more with Asia - including through the TPP - given the strategic and economic importance of the region to the US, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, Mr Lee met US lawmakers Randy Forbes and Colleen Hanabusa of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.

They had an extensive discussion on regional strategic and security issues, and reaffirmed the need for a robust and holistic US presence in the Asia-Pacific, the PMO said.

Mr Lee rounded off his afternoon of meetings with a tea hosted by Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), together with other SFRC senators Robert Corker, Benjamin Cardin and Marco Rubio. Mr Cardin is chairman of the SFRC Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Mr Lee left Washington on Wednesday evening for New York, where he will launch Temasek Holdings' new office.

fiochan@sph.com.sg

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