PM urges US to build on its work in Asia

President Obama and PM Lee at the entrance of the Sunnylands estate in California, as foreign delegates arrived for the US-Asean summit on Monday. The summit - the first time that the US has hosted Asean heads of government - has been hailed as an im
President Obama and PM Lee at the entrance of the Sunnylands estate in California, as foreign delegates arrived for the US-Asean summit on Monday. The summit - the first time that the US has hosted Asean heads of government - has been hailed as an important signal from Mr Obama to his successor.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

PM Lee hopes Obama's successor will carry on the good work and ensure region is stable

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the United States to stay the course in Asia, saying he hopes whoever succeeds President Barack Obama in the White House next year will build on the good work done over the past eight years.

"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," PM Lee said at a working dinner on the first day of the US-Asean summit in Sunnylands, California.

He added: "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... will build on the good work that has been done, sustain its direction and ensure that Asia is a stable and secure region."

His remarks reflect the growing concern among some Asia watchers that Mr Obama's rebalance to Asia might be abandoned once he leaves office next year.

 

Asia policy has not featured prominently on the US presidential campaign trail thus far, apart from nearly all the candidates voicing their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, considered the lynchpin of the rebalance to Asia.

This week's US-Asean summit - the first time that the US has hosted Asean heads of government - has thus been hailed as an important signal from Mr Obama to his successor.

Mr Lee said Asean deeply appreciates the policy shift towards Asia that Mr Obama had made, and added that the US continues to have important roles to play in the region.

"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," he added.

Mr Lee highlighted three trends that would influence the strategic landscape in Asia: Asean's progress, as well as the rise of China and India.

On territorial disputes in the South China Sea, he agreed with the US position that the matter should be dealt with peacefully and on the basis of international law, but added that this must be viewed in the context of a "cooperative relationship and not in a hostile way".

He acknowledged 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.

The first day of the summit opened on Monday with Mr Obama greeting Asean leaders at the Sunnylands estate and underscoring the importance of Asean, which the US considers to be "central to the region's peace and prosperity".

"This (summit) reflects my personal commitment, and the national commitment of the United States, to a strong and enduring partnership with your 10 nations," he said during his opening remarks.

Mr Obama said he chose to hold the summit in a resort town so that the leaders can meet in more informal surroundings. While everyone turned up in a suit, there were no ties in sight at the summit.

"You and the people of Asean have always shown me extraordinary hospitality, and I hope we can reciprocate with the warmth today and tomorrow - which is why I did not hold this summit in Washington. It is cold there. It's snowing. So, welcome to beautiful, warm Sunnylands," he told the leaders.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'PM urges US to build on its work in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe