PM accepts Trump's invitation to visit Washington

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has accepted an invitation from United States President Donald Trump to visit Washington, and hopes to make the trip this year.

Mr Lee said at the May Day Rally: "I just had a good phone call with President Trump last night. He invited me to go to Washington. I have agreed, and I hope to do it some time this year."

The White House, in a statement on the call, said both leaders affirmed their commitment to the close partnership between the US and Singapore. "This partnership is marked by thriving trade and investment, robust security cooperation, and close collaboration on regional and global challenges," it said, adding that Mr Trump invited PM Lee to the White House to further strengthen ties.

In his rally speech, Mr Lee noted confidence in the US economy had picked up. But he also outlined how the US' tougher stance on trade - forgoing a multilateral, win-win approach to embrace a win-lose view instead - posed a risk to global trade.

Mr Lee said the US is focusing on bilateral trade balances, targeting countries it has a deficit with.

He told his audience that as unionists, they would understand this was negotiation. "If you talk tough and you win a better deal, that is good. But if you talk too tough and as a result, you sour the trust, relationship, and cooperation, then that is a lose-lose outcome."

Other countries and their leaders have for now said they want to stay open to trade, Mr Lee said, citing China, Germany and Japan.

But if this harder US line leads to countries getting into a tit-for-tat on trade, "then things can turn sour very quickly", cautioned Mr Lee.

"The US has a big trade surplus with Singapore. Therefore, our relations with the US are fine. Because we don't look at it as win-lose, we look at it as win-win," he said.

"We continue to be very good friends with the US. But because our economy is so dependent on trade, if a trade war breaks out, even if we are not directly involved, it's going to hurt our economy," he said. "And we have to be prepared for this."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'PM accepts Trump's invitation to visit Washington'. Print Edition | Subscribe