Singapore and the United States - reliable partners

Next week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make an official visit to Washington, DC at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

This is a rare honour. The last time a similar invitation was extended was in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan invited Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

This year, we celebrate 50 years of excellent diplomatic relations with the United States. The US values Singapore as a reliable friend and close strategic partner in South-east Asia.

Singapore and the US have a shared commitment to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific within an open, inclusive, balanced and rules-based regional architecture.

When we established diplomatic relations, Singapore was a newly independent nation facing profound economic challenges and the imminent threat of militant communism. The US' stabilising presence in South-east Asia provided security and time for Singapore and other non- communist countries in the region to develop and prosper in a free market.

Investments by American companies helped to create many high quality jobs for Singaporeans, provided access to modern technology and entry to markets in developed countries. This gave Singapore a significant head start in globalisation.

Today, the US remains our largest foreign direct investor, with over 3,700 American companies headquartered here.

Building on the US-Singapore free trade agreement, we are its largest trading partner in South-east Asia. Despite our small size, we are the fourth-largest Asian foreign direct investor into the US.

We are also parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which will help to anchor the American economic and strategic presence in the region.

Defence and security constitute another key pillar of our partnership. Our armed forces regularly participate in US-led joint exercises and several of our air force detachments are deployed in the US. We also facilitate the US' presence in the region through the use of some of our facilities. We signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement last year and are looking at new areas of cooperation such as cybersecurity and counter-terrorism.

We work closely on regional platforms such as Apec, the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit. We also cooperate on the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme to provide technical assistance to other Asean countries.

Beyond these official links are the personal ties between our people. Artists, academics, scientists, students, businessmen and everyday Singaporeans and Americans have helped to advance this friendship in their own unique ways.

For instance, many Americans study in Singapore, and even more Singaporeans study in the US. Our universities have concluded tie-ups with American institutions, such as the National University of Singapore's collaboration in the Yale-NUS College and Duke-NUS Medical School; the collaboration between SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Culinary Institute of America's partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology; and the joint music degree offered by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Both countries have much to offer each other. As Singapore seeks to become a Smart Nation, there will be even more opportunities for collaboration in innovation with American entrepreneurs, tech firms and data scientists.

The recent launch of the Global Entry programme for Singaporean visitors to the US and American visitors to Singapore will help to facilitate these people-to-people exchanges.

In the last 50 years, we have built a strong relationship grounded on mutual trust and understanding.

As friends, we do not have to agree on everything. Occasional differences are discussed openly and constructively.

Prime Minister Lee's visit will be an excellent opportunity to celebrate this special partnership and help cement the enduring friendship between our people for the long term.

  • Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline Singapore and the United States - reliable partners. Subscribe