WASHINGTON - With a 19-gun salute and a military band playing, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was welcomed to the White House by United States President Barack Obama on Tuesday (Aug 2).
The US Ceremonial Guard was in place at the South Lawn for the official arrival ceremony, along with thousands who turned up not just with miniature US and Singapore flags, but also with fans to keep themselves cool on a hot summer day in Washington, DC.
Also present were Cabinet ministers Vivian Balakrishnan, S. Iswaran, Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung, all part of the Singapore delegation. The US delegation present included Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Mr Lee and his wife were greeted by Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they stepped out of the car.
The arrival ceremony kicked off with the military band playing Majulah Singapura as a 19-gun salute went off, with Mr Lee and Mr Obama standing together on stage. Singaporeans in the crowd sang along to the national anthem.
A rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner followed, before the two leaders inspected the guard of honour.
Then there was some time to shake hands and carry babies as Mr Lee and Mr Obama interacted with some of the gathered crowd. Mr Lee snapped photos of some of those assembled, for a later Facebook post perhaps. He told one Singaporean: "You must wave your flag!"
Mr Obama then spoke, welcoming Mr Lee and delivering greetings in Singapore's four official languages. He quipped that Washington is experiencing some "Singapore weather".
Singaporeans pride themselves on being a little red dot “with a very big impact on the world”, Mr Obama said.
“In less than a generation, under the vision and stewardship of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans transformed their nation from third world to first. They did this with almost no natural resources, except one - the people of Singapore, their commitment to education, to progress and to innovation.”
Singapore and Mr Lee have been “solid rock partners”, Mr Obama said. “Singapore is an anchor of our presence in the region.”
Mr Obama called the US and Singapore two societies built on multiculturalism and merit.
“In the US, we call ourselves a melting pot of different races, religions and creeds. In Singapore, it is rojak, different parts united in a harmonious whole, bound by the belief that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules you can make it.
“What Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said of his country could be said of us. Both are populations of tryers, prepared to try anything to improve themselves. We have only the future to go in quest of,” he said.
Mr Lee, in his speech, said that it was an honour for Singapore to be welcomed this way.
He spoke about how US has contributed greatly to peace and prosperity in Asia.
When founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew made his first official visit to the US in 1967, Singapore was then newly-independent, he said. But the founding prime minister "did not come to seek economic or military aid". He wanted to take the measure of America's mood and intentions at a time when the US was divided over the Vietnam War.
"He explained to his American friends why Asia mattered to America, and why the United States' active engagement was important to millions of people living in South-east Asia", said Mr Lee.
America's presence helped to contain the spread of communism, and give non-communist South-east Asian countries the crucial security, time and space to consolidate and prosper, he added.
Over the years, America's "endurance, policies and actions" have contributed greatly to peace and prosperity in Asia, he pointed out. "Keeping your markets open to trade, deepening your partnership with Asean, and cooperating with countries in the region to enhance regional security have helped create the basis for a peaceful, rules-based regional and international order."
Mr Lee urged US to continue to stay engaged in the region, even though some Americans were anxious and frustrated with economic uncertainty and the uneven results of globalisation, trade and foreign engagement.
"But the US has many interests, investments and friends in the region. These strengthen the US. Singapore fervently hopes that the US will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia-Pacific."
Calling on the US Congress to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon, he said not only will the pact benefit American workers and businesses, it will send "a clear and vital signal" that America will continue to lead in the Asia-Pacific, and enhance "the partnerships that link our destinies together".
Moving on to Singapore's ties with the US, Mr Lee said bilateral ties have remained steadfast through nine US Presidents - five Republican and four Democratic - and three Singapore Prime Ministers. "We will maintain these bipartisan links with whichever party wins the elections in November."
The two leaders will next hold a meeting in the Oval Office.
Later, Mr and Mrs Obama will host Mr and Mrs Lee to a state dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the US.
The dinner will be the first held in honour of a South-east Asian leader. Leaders from only four other Asian countries - China, Japan, South Korea and India - have been given the honour under Mr Obama's administration.
The menu includes a Maryland blue crab salad and American Wagyu beef tenderloin.
About 200 guests are expected to attend the dinner, which will be followed by a performance by singer-songwriter Chrisette Michele.
Also on Tuesday, Mr Biden, his wife Jill and Mr Kerry will host a state luncheon for Mr and Mrs Lee at the State Department.
Earlier on Mr Lee's six-day visit, he enjoyed a taste of home at the Singapore Embassy in Washington, where he joined more than 500 US-based Singaporeans in an early National Day celebration on Sunday. Guests tucked into Singapore dishes like chicken rice and mee siam.
On Monday, he was received with an enhanced honour cordon - reserved for America's closest partners - at the Pentagon, as he arrived for a meeting with US Defence Secretary Ash Carter.
Mr Lee also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and spoke about the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement at a reception hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and US-Asean Business Council.
Mr Lee and some of the delegates are staying at the Blair House, the guest house of the US President. Other foreign dignitaries who have called it their temporary home include Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Mr Nelson Mandela, the former South African president.