Official visit a sign of US emphasis on Asia, not just Singapore: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holds a press conference with the Singapore media at the Blair House on August 4. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee arrived at the White House on the morning of Aug 3, 2016, to a ceremony full of pomp and pageantry on the South Lawn. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Mr Obama shakes hands with Ms Chang Li Lin, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Lee. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Mr Obama and Prime Minister Lee inspect the guard-of-honour. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Mr Obama shakes hands with MP Rahayu Mahzam. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee arrived at the White House on the morning of Aug 3, 2016. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
PM Lee and Mr Obama make their way to the Oval Office. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
The Singapore delegation makes its way to the Oval Office. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
US President Barack Obama proposes a toast to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the State Dinner held in his honour. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Chrisette Michele entertains the guests at the State Dinner. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

WASHINGTON - The warm welcome and state dinner that Singapore received in Washington is a reflection of the emphasis that the United States puts on Asia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He told reporters that Singapore sees the visit as more than simply an indication of the strong ties between just Singapore and the US.

"It so happens that we are the ones invited, but it's not just because they are friends with Singapore, but Singapore is in the Asia Pacific and America values the Asia Pacific, and values all its friends in the Asia Pacific. I think that's how it should be seen, and that's how we in Singapore see it," Mr Lee on Wednesday (Aug 3) told the Singapore media in an interview at the end of his visit to the US.

The decision by the White House to grant Singapore the rare honour of a state dinner had been a matter of some interest among the American media, with the likes of CNBC running articles explaining how such a small country was chosen. Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to be given the honour.

In an interview with The Straits Times ahead of PM Lee's visit to the White House, President Barack Obama had also cast the significance of the event in light of his administration larger Asia policy.

He said that the visit reflected the important role Singapore plays in his administration's Asia rebalance, adding that he considered Singapore an anchor for US presence in the region.

On Wednesday, PM Lee also told reporters that he was heartened that Mr Obama continues to stay committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement despite the political difficulties.

"My one vivid memory of him is that, every time we had an Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, he would be pursuing the TPP progress and pressing the leaders to move faster in order to conclude the TPP. And each time we would have a gathering of TPP members, we did it in Japan, Hawaii, and every subsequent meeting, and each time he's personally pushing, and fully committed," he said.

"And even here, in the middle of an election campaign, busy with his domestic issues and many other things, and looking towards the end of his term, he's still pushing hard for the TPP, to complete the last few steps and get ratified in the US, and become a reality."

Mr Lee added that Singapore would do what it can to help advocate for the deal.

On the broader Singapore-US ties, Mr Lee said that things are going smoothly but he also wanted to ensure ties could be sustained in the future.

"I think there are many good things going, and we have to take it step by step, but at the same time be able to sustain it into the next generation of leaders, which is one of the reasons why, on this trip, I've brought along some young MPs and young ministers," he said.

Members of the Singapore delegation included Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Industry Minister S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Acting Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, and Members of Parliament Christopher De Souza and Rahayu Mahzam.

PM Lee was also asked about the condition of former president S R Nathan.

He said: "I have not got the latest updates, but I think his condition is stable, I had spoken to his daughter and Mrs Nathan when I arrived here in Washington, to express my concern and good wishes, and our thoughts and prayers are still with him and his family."

Mr Lee and his delegation headed home on Thursday.

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