US presses Asia 'pivot' with PM Lee

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States (US) said on Monday that it anticipated further military cooperation with Singapore as Washington presses forward its strategy of putting a greater focus on dispute-ridden Asia.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, kicking off a visit to Washington, spoke to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel about his views on resolving territorial issues in the South and East China Seas, the Pentagon said.

Mr Hagel "made clear the US and the Department of Defence remain committed to the rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region," Pentagon spokesman George Little said after the meeting.

Mr Hagel told Mr Lee that "in the future there will be even more opportunities for closer collaboration between the US and Singapore," Mr Little said.

The US is shifting more of its military toward Asia, part of President Barack Obama's stated "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia at a time of high tensions between a rising China and several of its neighbours.

The USS Freedom, a littoral combat ship, is en route to Singapore for a temporary deployment. The city-state plans to host up to four of the US ships, which are designed to operate off coasts.

Mr Hagel also said he would visit Singapore next month for the annual Shangri-La defence forum. Secretary of State John Kerry plans his own first trip to Asia since taking office later this month.

Mr Lee will meet on Tuesday with Mr Obama at the White House for talks that are also expected to focus on trade. The US and Singapore are both taking prominent roles in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.