Singapore has broad relationship with China and US, and is working to deepen ties with both: PM Lee Hsien Loong

(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, Singapore's Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump.
(From left) Chinese President Xi Jinping, Singapore's Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

MUNICH - Singapore has a broad, wide-ranging relationship with both China and the United States, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (July 10).

He was giving his assessment of relations with both powers in an interview with Singapore reporters towards the end of his six-day working visit to Germany, during which he met President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.

Singapore has a wide range of cooperation with China, Mr Lee said, citing the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - the third joint project between both countries - as well as exchanges with China's Central Organisation Department. The department's minister, Politburo member Zhao Leji, called on Mr Lee in May this year.

Mr Lee noted that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam visited China in June, and that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has accepted an invitation to visit Singapore.

"We have a broad relationship - there are issues that come out from time to time, we deal with them in a mature way and we move ahead," he said.

"We are not at odds with China, and I think China finds it useful also to be friendly with Singapore, so that's a good basis on which to work."

Observers had, in recent months, expressed concern that bilateral ties were under strain, even as officials noted that the overall relationship is wide-ranging, as shown by various high-level visits and meetings this year.

Mr Lee met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg last Thursday (July 6), a day before the Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders' Summit.

He also met United States President Donald Trump for the first time two days later (July 8), on the sidelines of the summit.


"I went in with an open mind," said Mr Lee of the meeting with Mr Trump. "I think we had a good discussion. I focused, really, on understanding how he looked at the relationship and on the broad issues... He was focused."

Mr Trump was accompanied by key Cabinet members at the meeting - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

"They understand, and we certainly understand, that our relationship with America is a very broad and substantial one," Mr Lee said.

Both countries cooperate in many different fields, from defence to the economy and security issues.

Regardless of president or administration, these are interests Singapore wants to push ahead with, Mr Lee said, adding: "And I think they'd like to push ahead too."

On the US withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Mr Lee said America had its considerations, and Singapore understood that.

Moving ahead, Singapore has to see how it can make the best of the situation, both with the other 10 TPP participants and also the US, he added.

Mr Lee said Singapore aims to continue broadening and deepening its relationship with the US, "within the framework and philosophical approach of the new administration".

Mr Trump was elected on promises to put "America first", and he has changed America's course on global issues such as trade and climate change since taking office. This included pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement - a move that put the country at odds with the other G-20 members at the summit.

Asked whether the US was ceding its leadership position on global issues and whether countries like China would step in to fill the void, Mr Lee replied that different countries play different roles.

The United States has traditionally played a unique role in upholding not only its national interests, but also the global system which affords it the maximum opportunity to exert its influence and prosper, Mr Lee said.

It assumed this role after World War II, which also came about due to America's fundamental political and social values. The United States has seen itself "as a unique society, as a city upon the hill and a light unto nations", he added.

Mr Trump's administration is different: It puts the US first, and places less weight on America's responsibilities for "global public goods" - for instance, security, being the world's policeman, and upholding open free trade.

Mr Lee noted that other countries do not have the same history, self-image, or tradition of a realpolitik, pragmatic type of statecraft practised by the US.

"It's not so clear that if the US decides to play a different role, somebody else can step into what the US' role used to be," he said. "We'll have to see how things develop."

Mr Lee also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin before the G-20 summit.

Both leaders have instructed their ministers to conduct a comprehensive review of the bilateral partnership and identify new opportunities for cooperation.

Mr Lee, who has invited Dr Merkel to visit Singapore, said the ministers are likely to draft a document on this.

"When Dr Merkel has a chance to visit Singapore, we can jointly announce the document, to set a new direction for the cooperation between Singapore and Germany," he said.