PM Lee Hsien Loong calls on US to stay the course in Asia

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and US President Obama at the Sunnylands Estate in California on Feb 15, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and US President Obama at the Sunnylands Estate in California on Feb 15, 2016.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the US to stay the course in Asia, stressing that a consistent trajectory was crucial as the country still has an important role to play in the region.

Speaking at a working dinner on Feb 15 at the end of the first day of the landmark US-Asean summit in Sunnylands, California, PM Lee stressed that the US is an important player in a broad range of security issues.

Said Mr Lee: "The relationship with China is most important. At the same time, you have a key role to play in fostering stability in North-east Asia, especially given the issues in the Korean Peninsula, and particularly the nuclear issue. On other security issues, America plays an important role in the region too, such as terrorism, freedom of navigation and rule of international law."

"What's most important is that the direction be sustained and enhanced, and there is predictability and conviction by all players that this is the direction which America has committed to taking," he added.

Mr Lee's remarks come at a pivotal time for the Obama administration's policy of rebalancing to Asia. Thus far, Asia has failed to feature prominently in the US presidential campaign, and it is not yet clear if the next president will place the same level of importance in the country's engagement with the region.

The US-Asean summit has thus been billed as a critical move by President Barack Obama to signal the importance of the region to his successor. And as the prime minister thanked Mr Obama for his leadership on this front, Mr Lee also hoped the next US president would take the same path.

 "All of us are following the processes of the US November Elections with great interest as well as concern, and we hope that the new President, whoever he or she may be, will build on the good work that has been done, sustain its direction and ensure that Asia is a stable and secure region, in which all countries big and small can prosper together," said Mr Lee.

In his speech, Mr Lee also highlighted three trends which would influence the strategic landscape in Asia for years to come; the progress of Asean; as well as the rise of China, and India.

He acknowledged that Asean was "not a perfect union" but said he was certain countries in the region would become closer and more effective over time. He said the grouping needs to press on with economic integration and deepen regional ties.

On China, the Prime Minister said the East Asian country's role in the region will grow, but its rise could also lead to frictions like the South China Sea issue. He stated that the matter needs to dealt with on the basis of international law, but added that this must be viewed in the context of a "co-operative relationship and not in a hostile way".

On India, Mr Lee said that if reforms succeeded there, the South Asian country would have a greater influence in the region, and "will take a more active role engaging in international affairs, and will be an additional constructive player in the region".