Asean and US elevate ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership

PM Lee Hsien Loong greeting US President Joe Biden at the Asean summit in Phnom Penh on Nov 12. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

PHNOM PENH – Ties between Asean and the United States got a boost on Saturday as they formally upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

The agreement will seek to allow both sides to work more closely together in wide-ranging aspects for the long term, including areas such as energy research and climate change.

During a meeting between regional leaders and US President Joe Biden, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Asean-US relations have achieved a new milestone.

“Singapore will work with the US to strengthen our cooperation under the comprehensive strategic partnership,” he added.

The bloc appreciates that the US has a continued focus on the region, even amid its many preoccupations in other parts of the world, said PM Lee.

“Asean has greatly benefitted from US’ presence in the region. At the same time, Asean believes that we can be a useful partner to the US.”

US collaboration on research and the deployment of clean energy in the region would be welcome, PM Lee said.

“There are many opportunities for US companies in Asean’s energy sector, including in low-carbon energy solutions and green energy infrastructure. We can also share knowledge on renewable energy deployment and power grids.”

PM Lee noted that Singapore and the US are working on a feasibility study on enhancing regional networks to strengthen energy security and grid resilience, and is a step towards better energy integration and the development of the Asean Power Grid.

The Asean Power Grid is an initiative to construct regional power interconnection on cross-border bilateral terms, before gradually expanding to a sub-regional basis, with an aim to achieve a totally integrated South-east Asia power system.

But how the region progresses depends on a stable global geopolitical climate, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused much uncertainty, said PM Lee.

Stressing that Singapore condemns the invasion, he said that the Republic cannot accept any kind of violation of a country’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity

“Asean shares the US’ desire for a swift and peaceful solution of the conflict,” he said.

US President Joe Biden (fifth from left) with Asean leaders including PM Lee Hsien Loong (second from left) in Phnom Penh on Nov 12. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Turning to the US and China, PM Lee called their relationship the most consequential one in the world – one that affects the peace and stability of South-east Asia.

He said that of late, tensions have grown between the two in a number of areas, including on Taiwan, but countries in the region – Singapore included – want to maintain good relations with both Washington and Beijing.

“We hope the US can work with China to manage the tensions, build mutual trust at the highest level and work out a modus vivendi.”

A modus vivendi refers to an arrangement that lets parties facing disagreements coexist peacefully, either indefinitely or until a final settlement is reached.

PM Lee also touched on the issue of the South China Sea, and said that the waterway is a key channel for global trade, and thus of concern not just to claimant states, but also to the international community.

Asean welcomes the South China Sea Code of Conduct that is in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which safeguards the rights and interests of all parties, he said.

The US has provided over US$860 million (S$1.18 trillion) in assistance to its Asean partners in 2022, the White House said on Saturday. “This assistance is supporting climate ambition and the clean energy transition, access to education, strengthened health systems, security modernisation efforts, rule of law and human rights, and more.”

At the meeting on Saturday, Mr Biden announced that he has requested US$825 million in assistance for South-east Asia for 2023.

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