PM Lee’s official visit to the US

New initiatives to beef up US-Singapore ties

Mr Obama and his wife Michelle with PM Lee and members of the Singapore team - (from left) Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, MP Christopher de Souza and For
Mr Obama and PM Lee concluding their joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. Adding to Mr Obama's argument in support of the TPP, Mr Lee highlighted "the other side of the economic benefit" not only for producers but also for consumers in America.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mr Obama and his wife Michelle with PM Lee and members of the Singapore team - (from left) Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, MP Christopher de Souza and For
Mr Obama and his wife Michelle with PM Lee and members of the Singapore team - (from left) Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, MP Christopher de Souza and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan - on the Truman Balcony of the White House before the state dinner. PHOTO: ONG YE KUNG/FACEBOOK

Cyber-security pact, scholarship scheme among a host of new measures; both leaders push strongly for TPP deal

Singapore and the United States announced a slew of measures to boost cooperation, including an agreement to work more closely on cyber security and a US-Singapore scholarship programme.

Both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Barack Obama welcomed these new initiatives during a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday, and noted the growing cooperation in areas such as climate change and counter-terrorism.

The new scholarship would fund summer exchange programmes for 50 Singaporean and 50 American students over the course of the next five years.

A new memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries would also bring about regular information exchanges and the sharing of best practices on cyber security.

It commits both parties to "conduct joint cyber-security exercises and collaborate on regional cyber capacity-building and cyber security awareness-building activities", according to a statement.

These announcements came on a day when trade - in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal - dominated a joint press conference at the White House.

Both leaders advocated strongly for the deal, with Mr Obama spending nearly 20 minutes laying out his argument.

First, he said the 12-nation trade pact "knocks out 18,000 tariffs that other countries place on American products and goods".

"If everybody agrees that we're going to have lower tariffs, that's good for American businesses and American workers. And we should want that, we should pursue it," said Mr Obama.

Second, he said the TPP strengthens labour and environmental agreements in partner countries.

"We're raising standards for workers in those countries, which means it's harder for them to undercut labour standards here in the United States. The same is true for environmental standards," he said.

Appealing to liberals opposed to the deal, Mr Obama added: "If you care about preventing abuse of workers, child labour, wildlife trafficking, overfishing and the decimation of forests, all those things are addressed in this agreement."

Both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Donald Trump have said they oppose the TPP, but Mr Obama remains resolute.

"Hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won't just be a political symbol or a political football," he said.

Adding to Mr Obama's argument, Mr Lee highlighted "the other side of the economic benefit" not only for producers but also for consumers in America.

"I am spending, I am consuming, I am importing and, because it's freed up trade, I am getting a wider range of products, of services, of opportunities, which will improve my livelihood," he said.

He also made it clear that America's reputation is at stake if it drops the deal, saying that America's partners had to "overcome some domestic political objection, some sensitivity, some political cost to come to the table and make this deal".

"And if, at the end, waiting at the altar, the bride doesn't arrive, I think there are people who are going to be very hurt, not just emotionally, but really damaged for a long time to come," said Mr Lee.

The TPP would point the world in the right direction.

"If you set the wrong direction, maybe in the next 50 years, some time, you will turn around, but it will cost you many years and the world will have to pay quite a high price," said Mr Lee.

US Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry held a state luncheon for Mr Lee after the press conference.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'New initiatives to beef up US-S'pore ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe