Singapore and the United States, already established partners on multiple fronts, can deepen their cooperation in regional issues as well as security concerns like nuclear proliferation and cybercrime, US Vice-President Joe Biden has suggested.
"Singapore plays an absolutely central role in South-east Asia," said Mr Biden, who arrived last night for his first-ever visit to Singapore, in a written interview with The Straits Times.
"We see a huge opportunity to strengthen our relationships in Singapore, and to really expand them, as part of our rebalancing strategy, so that both nations, and the region as a whole, can benefit from the work we do together."
The two countries have significantly stepped up bilateral collaboration of late. In February last year, they signed new agreements to conduct annual strategic talks, as well as to jointly embark on developmental projects in the Lower Mekong region.
In April this year, the US Navy dispatched its first littoral combat ship to Singapore as part of the Obama administration's strategy to "rebalance" military and diplomatic resources to the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Biden also cited the ongoing talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed 12-nation free trade agreement, as another opportunity for the US and Singapore to build on their already strong economic ties.
Washington increasingly sees the TPP as a way to regain its economic leadership in the region. America's economic position in the Asia-Pacific has declined in the past decade relative to that of China, which is now the No. 1 trading partner for many countries in the region.
"Part of the purpose of this trip is to highlight just how important we view our economic relationship with Singapore and across South-east Asia," said Mr Biden.
"(US and Asean leaders) are working together to create momentum in our trade relationship and building blocks to facilitate the potential future participation of all Asean countries in high- standard trade agreements like the TPP."
Mr Biden is expected to further address regional trade and economic issues tomorrow when he speaks at Pratt and Whitney, a US company with seven business units in Singapore which repair and overhaul aircraft engine parts. He will also visit the USS Freedom, the littoral combat ship that is on an eight-month deployment to South-east Asia.
Today, Mr Biden will have a flurry of meetings with Singapore leaders, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
No new bilateral initiatives are expected to be announced during the visit, though Mr Biden cited energy, climate change, maritime security, nuclear proliferation and cybercrime as areas in which both nations can enhance their cooperation. He did not elaborate.
"Singapore is a crucial partner for the United States on regional security and economic matters," he said. "That's why I'm so delighted to visit and to continue these discussions, in person, with Singapore's leaders."
Mr Biden will also meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in town today as part of his tour to three South-east Asian countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines.