Shanmugam, Kerry reaffirm bilateral ties

They also call for progress in creating code of conduct in South China Sea

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting at the State Department in Washington on May 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: MFA
Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting at the State Department in Washington on May 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: MFA

The foreign ministers of Singapore and the United States have called for swifter progress in crafting a code of conduct in the South China Sea, and for territorial disputes between China and several South-east Asian countries to be resolved peacefully.

Mr K. Shanmugam and his US counterpart John Kerry raised the recent spat near the Paracel Islands during brief remarks to reporters at the State Department on Monday, before a wide-ranging meeting covering the various aspects of the Singapore-US relationship.

His week-long visit to Washington comes hot on the heels of an Asean foreign ministers' meeting where the South China Sea issue topped the agenda.

"We (Asean ministers) do not want tension. We want a code of conduct to be progressed with.

"We need a situation where parties resolve their disputes and differences in a way that's acceptable to all," Mr Shanmugam said.

Similarly, Mr Kerry reiterated US concerns about the showdown between Chinese and Vietnamese ships over a Chinese oil rig deployed near the disputed Paracels.

"All nations that are engaged in navigation and traffic within the South China Sea, the East China Sea are deeply concerned about this aggressive act," he said.

"We want to see a code of conduct created; we want to see this resolved peacefully through the Law of the Sea, through arbitration, through any other means, but not direct confrontation and aggressive action."

Mr Kerry, who spoke to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi over the phone on Monday, described Beijing's deployment of the oil rig and ships as "provocative".

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied that China was the guilty party and faulted the US for encouraging such behaviour instead.

"We expect the US to reflect on its acts. If it indeed expects the Pacific Ocean to be pacific, it should think what role it can play in maintaining regional peace and stability," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.

Both Singapore and the US were eager to not allow the issue to dominate the day's proceedings in Washington.

A statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the meeting focused largely on bilateral issues.

Mr Shanmugam and Mr Kerry both reaffirmed the "close and longstanding" links between their countries, and lauded progress made under the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme launched in 2012.

The programme, which provides training for Asean government officials, has now trained some 280 officials in areas such as sustainable development.

Both sides also agreed that it was important to reach an early conclusion to negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Talks on the 12-nation free trade pact appeared to have stalled last month when President Barack Obama's Asia visit did not produce good news on that front. The US Congress has also declined to grant Mr Obama fast-track trade negotiating authority.

Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the deal would bring significant benefits for the US.

"Today, 560,000 American jobs are dependent on exports to Asean alone, and Asean attracts nearly US$200 billion (S$250.1 billion) of investments, the largest in all of Asia. One in three American jobs are dependent on exports to Asia," he said.

He is due to meet at least four senators during his visit.

Mr Shanmugam, who is concurrently Law Minister, also met US Attorney-General Eric Holder. They reaffirmed their desire to strengthen bilateral legal cooperation.