PM Lee marks National Day early in US

PM Lee and some members of the Singapore delegation are staying at Blair House, the guest house of the US President. PM Lee taking a picture of the Singapore Embassy staff in Washington, DC on Sunday. At the event, he spoke to Singaporeans and took p
PM Lee taking a picture of the Singapore Embassy staff in Washington, DC on Sunday. At the event, he spoke to Singaporeans and took photos with them.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
PM Lee and some members of the Singapore delegation are staying at Blair House, the guest house of the US President. PM Lee taking a picture of the Singapore Embassy staff in Washington, DC on Sunday. At the event, he spoke to Singaporeans and took p
PM Lee and some members of the Singapore delegation are staying at Blair House, the guest house of the US President. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ONG YE KUNG

He joins US-based Singaporeans for celebration at the Republic's Embassy in Washington, DC

National Day came early in Washington DC, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee celebrated Singapore's 51st birthday with more than 500 guests at the Republic's Embassy on Sunday.

Speaking to the guests at the start of the evening, PM Lee said: "We have much to celebrate because we have spent 50 years together and are now embarking on the next 50 years - the second half century of our nation-building journey."

The Prime Minister is in the United States for an official visit and will be hosted by US President Barack Obama and Mrs Michelle Obama at the White House for a state dinner today.

This is the first time a South-east Asian leader will be given this honour by the Obama administration.

"The fact that there are so many Singaporeans here in America... shows how wide and deep our relations are, not just between the governments and companies but also the people," said PM Lee, who spent most of the evening speaking to Singaporeans and taking selfies with them.

When speaking to students, PM Lee would ask about their experience in the US and whether they intended to stay or return to Singapore to work.

DEEP U.S.-SINGAPORE TIES

The fact that there are so many Singaporeans here in America... shows how wide and deep our relations are, not just between the government and companies but also the people.

PM LEE

Ms Jyostna Subramaniam, 22, a student at Georgetown University, said she wanted to gain some experience overseas but would ultimately return home. When she told Mr Lee that she spoke Arabic, he said: "We need people like that, we don't have enough Arabic speakers."

Members of Parliament and Cabinet ministers at Sunday's celebration included Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Minister at the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung. They will also form part of the delegation attending the state dinner today.

PM Lee and some of the delegates are staying at Blair House, the guest house of the US President, which has been a home away from home for visiting foreign dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II and Mr Nelson Mandela.

Madam Rahayu Mahzam, an MP for Jurong GRC, said she is proud that the Singapore delegation includes representatives from different communities.

"It shows our leadership is inclusive... we never take diversity for granted and we are able to showcase that as we travel," she said.

As National Day songs played in the background, many tucked into Singapore favourites such as chicken rice, satay and mee siam.

Said Mrs Salwa Salim-Perry, 32, a Singaporean business owner who moved to the US just two months ago: "It feels so good to be here, to hear people speaking Singlish around me, I feel like I'm connected to home again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'PM Lee marks National Day early in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe