PM Lee’s official visit to the US

Invite to Singapore reflects US' Asia stance: PM Lee Hsien Loong

US President Obama and PM Lee meeting spectators gathered at the White House on Tuesday. Singapore was given a state dinner, one of the US government's highest diplomatic honours.
US President Obama and PM Lee meeting spectators gathered at the White House on Tuesday. Singapore was given a state dinner, one of the US government's highest diplomatic honours.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Washington's warm reception goes beyond bilateral ties and shows how the US values Asia-Pacific region, he says

The warm welcome and state dinner that Singapore received in Washington is a reflection of the emphasis that the United States puts on Asia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, stressing that the symbolism of the past week goes beyond just bilateral ties.

"It so happens that we are the ones invited, but it's not just because they are friends with Singapore, but Singapore is in the Asia-Pacific and America values the Asia-Pacific, and values all its friends in the Asia-Pacific. I think that's how it should be seen, and that's how we in Singapore see it," Mr Lee told the Singapore media on Wednesday in an interview at the end of his visit to the US.

The decision by the White House to grant Singapore a state dinner - one of the US government's highest diplomatic honours - had been a matter of some interest in the US media, with the likes of CNBC running articles explaining how such a small country was chosen. Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to be given the honour.

In an interview with The Straits Times ahead of PM Lee's visit to the White House, US President Barack Obama had also cast the significance of the event in the light of his administration's larger Asia policy.

He said that the visit reflects the important role Singapore plays in his Asia rebalance, adding that he considers Singapore an anchor for US presence in the region.

On Wednesday, PM Lee also told reporters he was heartened that Mr Obama continues to stay committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement despite the political difficulties.

"My one vivid memory of him is that, every time we had an Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, he would be pursuing the TPP progress and pressing the leaders to move faster in order to conclude the TPP," he said.

"And even here, in the middle of an election campaign, busy with his domestic issues and many other things, and looking towards the end of his term, he's still pushing hard for the TPP, to complete the last few steps and get it ratified in the US, and to become a reality."

THOUGHTS WITH NATHAN FAMILY

I have not got the latest updates, but I think his condition is stable. I had spoken to his daughter and Mrs Nathan when I arrived here in Washington, to express my concern and good wishes, and our thoughts and prayers are still with him and his family.

PM LEE, when asked about the condition of former president S R Nathan.


LYING LOW WON'T WORK

We are a target of ISIS anyway. The JI (Jemaah Islamiah) were looking for us before we did anything and before we knew they existed... If they see Indonesia and Malaysia as legitimate targets, all the more Singapore, (which) is a rational, open, cosmopolitan country, and not what they think countries should be and, therefore, should be attacked. So do not think that, by lying low, we are not going to be a target. So what can we do to contribute, what are the risks, is it something where we can make a difference?

PM LEE, on whether increasing contributions to the anti-ISIS coalition makes Singapore a target.


U.S. VALUES ASIA-PACIFIC

I think it's a reflection of the good relations between Singapore and America, but it's also a reflection of America's emphasis and weight it gives to all of its friends in the Asia-Pacific region. It so happens that we are the ones invited, but it's not just because they are friends with Singapore, but Singapore is in the Asia-Pacific and America values the Asia-Pacific, and values all its friends in the Asia-Pacific. So I think that's how it should be seen, and that's how we in Singapore see it."

PM LEE, when asked how Singapore's neighbours might view the official visit to the United States.

Mr Lee added that Singapore will do what it can to help advocate for the deal.

"We will do our best to try and help him. But we have a good agreement and, on the basis of that agreement, we now have to make the argument and persuade the sceptics enough for them in order to get the ratification," he said.

On broader Singapore-US ties, Mr Lee said things are going smoothly, but that he also wants to ensure that ties will be sustained in the future.

"I think there are many good things going, and we have to take it step by step, but at the same time be able to sustain it into the next generation of leaders, which is one of the reasons why, on this trip, I've brought along some young MPs and young ministers," he said.

The Singapore delegation included Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Trade and Industry Minister S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Acting Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, and Members of Parliament Christopher De Souza and Rahayu Mahzam.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Invite to S'pore reflects US' Asia stance: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe