Singapore hopes United States will deepen ties with Asia-Pacific: PM Lee

PM Lee and President Biden at a press conference in the White House on March 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

WASHINGTON - Singapore hopes that the United States, amid its many preoccupations, will continue to deepen its relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (March 29) during his meeting with US President Joe Biden.

President Biden said that even as his administration addresses the ongoing Ukraine crisis, it is committed to implementing its Indo-Pacific strategy, and he is looking forward to hosting Asean leaders in Washington for a special summit soon.

"Singapore deeply appreciates President Biden's leadership in strengthening US engagement of the region," said PM Lee.

"We welcome his intention to host an Asean-US Special Summit here soon. It's a strong affirmation of US commitment to South-east Asia and to Asean centrality."

Speaking to reporters at the start of their meeting at the White House, both leaders discussed America's commitment to the Asia-Pacific and acknowledged that their meeting came amid a critical moment in world affairs, with Mr Biden calling Russia's invasion of Ukraine an urgent threat to both Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

"It's attacking the core tenets of the rules-based international order, (that) borders can't be changed by force, and all nations large and small are equal and sovereign," said President Biden.

He thanked PM Lee for Singapore's "principled leadership in supporting the people of Ukraine", a reference to the sanctions and export restrictions that Singapore has imposed on Moscow to constrain Russia's capacity to conduct war against Ukraine.

"I know it's not easy, but I want to thank you for it. You're a man of principle and you've stepped up every time you had to," said Mr Biden, adding later that Singapore punched way above its weight.

Mr Biden reaffirmed America's commitment to the region, while PM Lee said he hoped the US could substantially deepen its relationships with Asean countries and others, including China.

In doing so, the US would foster the peace, stability and security of the region, as it has done since World War II, he added.

He said that the relationship between the US and Asean is "an engagement which is important to the US because it helps the US to be present in the Asia-Pacific, and to deepen its relations with many friends, and to strengthen its strategic interests in the region".

The two leaders also praised the strength of defence and economic ties between their two countries, with PM Lee noting Singapore's status as America's only Major Security Cooperation Partner.

"Singapore is a very good partner of the United States," said PM Lee, who wore a lapel pin with the US and Singapore flags on it. "Our relations are doing very well, economically as well as in the security and defence realms. And they prosper and grow and venture into new areas, continually."

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The Prime Minister's Office said both leaders reaffirmed the robust, enduring and multifaceted Singapore-US partnership and welcomed new areas of cooperation, including in infrastructure development, cyber security and space.

"PM Lee welcomed President Biden's strong commitment to engage the region and Asean. Both leaders exchanged views on international and regional developments, including the crisis in Ukraine, and reaffirmed their shared commitment to a stable, rules-based global order," it added.

At a joint press conference after the meeting, PM Lee said Singapore is a staunch supporter of international law and the United Nations Charter, which prohibits acts of aggression against a sovereign state, and this is why it has strongly condemned the unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine.

"The sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected. The unprovoked military invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext is unacceptable," he said.

"Our actions are based on the principles that are fundamental to our survival and existence as an independent sovereign nation. We have upheld these principles, and voted in accordance with them at the UN, in successive crises over many decades, involving different countries," he added.

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