A toast to 50 years of US-S'pore friendship

PM Lee with Mr and Mrs Obama at the White House state dinner, the first held in Singapore's honour in three decades. Mr Obama called for both nations to "continue to build something special together", while PM Lee hailed the President's leadership, s
PM Lee with Mr and Mrs Obama at the White House state dinner, the first held in Singapore's honour in three decades. Mr Obama called for both nations to "continue to build something special together", while PM Lee hailed the President's leadership, saying he hoped the US would stay engaged in Asia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The friendship between Singapore and the United States was celebrated on Tuesday night, as President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the first White House state dinner in Singapore's honour in three decades.

The strong bilateral relationship that has grown since diplomatic ties were formally initiated 50 years ago had already been on display through much of PM Lee's official visit to the US capital, but the glamorous black-tie dinner proved to be the climax.

As they toasted each other, both leaders lauded the enduring ties and looked forward to continued collaboration.

"Let's continue to build something special together," Mr Obama said as he raised a glass, borrowing a call PM Lee made last year to Singaporeans when he was sworn in after the General Election. "Onward, Singapore - Majulah Singapura. Onward, America. Cheers. Yam seng."

While making a toast to Mr Obama, PM Lee hailed the American President's leadership, adding that he was struck early on by Mr Obama's emphasis on Asia.

"I remember my first meeting with you at the Senate. It was May 2007. You were in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign, and not yet the front runner for the Democratic nomination. But I was struck by your focus, your informed interest in Asia and your desire to cement America's role in it," he said.

As he praised America's ideals such as openness and generosity of spirit, Mr Lee said he hoped the US would remain engaged in Asia.

He said: "You seek to build a world where countries can prosper together. You make common cause with others to fight the problems which plague mankind, be it extremist terrorism, poverty, Ebola or climate change. That is why 70 years after the Second World War, America is still a welcomed power in Asia."

Nearly 200 of Washington's leaders - alongside some from Wall Street and Hollywood - attended the state dinner. Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to receive such an honour under the Obama presidency.

Jeremy Au Yong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'A toast to 50 years of US-S'pore friendship'. Print Edition | Subscribe