US 'must stick to critical global role'

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan ended his US trip yesterday with a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington. Part of the agenda of Dr Balakrishnan's visit to Washington was to prepare for an official visit by Prime Min
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan ended his US trip yesterday with a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington. Part of the agenda of Dr Balakrishnan's visit to Washington was to prepare for an official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August.ST PHOTO: JEREMY AU YONG

S'pore minister makes call, voicing worries that US may become less engaged

The US should not lose sight of the critical role it plays globally, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday, as he voiced concern that the US appears to be at an inflection point in its approach to leadership in the world.

"From afar, we sense that perhaps the ground sentiment is shifting, that perhaps Americans are becoming wary of costly foreign interventions and even becoming increasingly suspicious of free trade," he said in a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

Dr Balakrishnan is on his first visit to the US capital as foreign minister. He added: "It is our hope that America will not lose the sense of confidence, the can-do spirit and the sense of mission that has energised American foreign policy and, indeed, the approach to its global role for the past century."

Rhetoric from the US presidential campaign trail in recent months has alarmed many international observers with its isolationist undertones, with candidates pushing back on foreign trade and one calling for the US to do less to defend its allies.

Dr Balakrishnan outlined the many contributions the US has made to Asia in the past and stressed that it continues to play an "indispensable role". He paid tribute to President Barack Obama's clear commitment to the region and hoped this would last beyond the President's term which ends next January.

"President Obama's personal efforts to deepen engagement have been deeply appreciated in South- east Asia," he said, pointing out that Mr Obama had attended nearly every East Asian Summit.

As he did during brief remarks before US lawmakers a day earlier, Dr Balakrishnan continued to drive home the strategic importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade deal that includes the US, Japan and Singapore.

"It will signal that the strength of America is not just in your aircraft carriers and B-52s, but in your entrepreneurs, your businesses, scientists, your innovators, and your artists. And the TPP will open up greater opportunities for everyone."

He made it clear that there would be no appetite to re-open negotiations if the US Congress fails to ratify the deal this year. "There are many leaders in Asia who have gone out on a limb to support the TPP. If having marched everybody up the hill, you march down now, it would have been better if you never even started on this journey."

During his broad-ranging speech, he also touched on the need for the US and China to develop a more trusting relationship and reiterated Singapore's call for the South China Sea disputes to be dealt with in accordance with international law.

Part of the agenda of Dr Balakrishnan's visit to Washington was to prepare for an official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August that will include a State Dinner at the White House. He held discussions with US officials and lawmakers, and ended his trip yesterday with a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The two leaders affirmed the strong ties between the two nations over the past 50 years. Mr Kerry said Singapore was one of the US' "strongest partners in all of the Asia-Pacific".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'US 'must stick to critical global role''. Print Edition | Subscribe