PM Lee urges US to sustain economic ties with Asia

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met President Donald Trump at the White House yesterday. Mr Trump congratulated PM Lee on Singapore’s economy doing well, and Mr Lee said he looked forward to hearing Mr Trump’s messages when the US President visits
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met President Donald Trump at the White House yesterday. Mr Trump congratulated PM Lee on Singapore’s economy doing well, and Mr Lee said he looked forward to hearing Mr Trump’s messages when the US President visits Asia next month. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Region holds many opportunities for American businesses, he says

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday urged the United States to sustain its economic engagement of Asia, which continues to hold many opportunities for American businesses.

He also highlighted how the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific, which were shaped by decades of such engagement, are vital US national security interests.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, PM Lee noted that a new administration with a radically different approach has not changed the substance of US relations with Asia.

He later called on President Donald Trump at the White House in the afternoon.

PM Lee told American business leaders during the dialogue that US trade with the Asia-Pacific exceeds that with Europe, and US multinationals have major investments in the region.

There are investment and technological gaps American companies can fill, growing middle classes to purchase US products, and great scope for US businesses to grow new markets and create prosperity on both sides of the Pacific, he said.

On the strategic front, the US has major allies in Asia, and US-China ties remain the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And successive US administrations have built up ties with the region and sought to ensure its stability.

America's recent turn inwards, away from multilateralism, has prompted concerns about weakened prospects for growth and stability among many countries, and US business leaders as well.

Yesterday, PM Lee called on the US to still uphold free trade and tackle issues that arise in cooperation with its partners.

America's attitude on these issues is key, and has implications for the entire world, he added.

"Do you still believe that it has the most to gain from an interdependent world, open exchanges and multilateral rules? In particular, how will your relations with China develop?" he asked.

"How America answers these questions will determine not just prosperity, but war and peace - not just in Asia, but the world."

Asia's economies are among the fastest growing and account for two-thirds of global growth today, PM Lee noted. Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Huawei, or Indian firms like Bharti Enterprises, are world-class multinational corporations. The region as a whole is also becoming more integrated and interdependent, he said, citing how Asean has formed an economic community that will be the fourth-largest single market by 2030.

And it is pushing ahead on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade pact that brings together the grouping and six key trading partners - including China and India - that together cover half the world's population and a third of its gross domestic product. Meanwhile, India has been making progress opening up. And China, the single most important driver of Asia's prosperity and integration, has been enhancing its interlinkages with the region.

"Asian countries want to benefit from the trade and economic opportunities China offers," PM Lee said, adding that, at the same time, they do not want a world divided into rival blocs.

Having prospered under a global, multilateral system of trade and finance, they have substantial economic links with Europe and the US - and want to maintain and grow these even as they deepen cooperation within Asia, he said.

Economic Club president David Rubenstein later asked PM Lee what was the main message he wanted to convey to Mr Trump.

Asia is important to the US, PM Lee replied, adding: "There is a lot we can do together."

On Sunday, he told 250 Singaporeans at a reception that Singapore's economy is expected to grow by close to 3 per cent this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee urges US to sustain economic ties with Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe