Singapore key component of US-Asia engagement, say congressmen


WASHINGTON - Congressional Singapore Caucus leaders on Tuesday (June 6) in Washington stressed the importance of maintaining the close relationship between the United States and Singapore.

Alabama Republican Bradley Byrne, co-chairman of the caucus, speaking at a reception hosted by visiting Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, said: "Singapore is one of the most impressive places I have ever been."

"American security interests follow our trading interests, it has always been so. We need to go and tell our constituents that we, the United States, benefit from our free trading system, from the openness of the sea lanes of the world and particularly the openness of sea lanes in that part of the world."

Calling Singapore "an incredible success story", co-chairman Denny Heck, a Democratic congressman from Washington state, said: "There is no future for America on the global stage if it does not come to terms with how it is going to face… Asia."

"There can't be a coherent relationship with China without also having a coherent relationship with the nations of Asean, and there can't be (a) relationship with Asean if we do not have a strong relationship with the thought leader among the Asean nations and that's Singapore, the nation with which we're probably most closely aligned in terms of values and perspective in the world."

He added: "Literally, you could say that America's self-interest is on display here because we cannot have a position in the world to make sense and that enables our country to be successful, and to demonstrate leadership, if we do not have a good strong alliance and friendship with Singapore."

Mr Bradley Byrne, co-chairman of the Congressional Singapore Caucus, and Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at a reception for the Congressional Singapore Caucus in Washington on June 7. ST PHOTOS: NIRMAL GHOSH

Dr Balakrishnan told the congressmen that part of the reason for Singapore's "reasonable measure of success" had been the fact that America had been in Asia.

"Particularly in South-east Asia your presence over the last 70 years has ensured that the rules-based order prevails, a belief in free trade, open markets, and that's made all the difference," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan recalled the visit made by Vice-President Mike Pence to Jakarta two months ago, when he said that American exports to South-east Asia exceeded US$100 billion (S$138 billion) a year and supported half a million jobs in the US. "We also need to make the argument that it (free trade and open markets) creates jobs, opportunities, for Americans wherever they are," he said.

Florida Republican Ted Yoho, chairman of the Congress Asia-Pacific sub-committee, said: "The US-Singapore relationship has been in the forefront of US engagement in South-east Asia." His sub-committee would "continue to be deeply committed to the United States' engagement in South-east Asia". "I have written to President (Donald) Trump with the recommendation of deepening US-Asean ties."

"Singapore as a regional leader in trade, security and counter-terrorism is fundamental to the United States' foreign policy in this area," he said.

Along with the congressional leaders, Dr Balakrishnan also met Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. During the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Sullivan reaffirmed the excellent state of Singapore-US relations, underpinned by strong economic and defence relations, as well as close people-to-people ties, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Sullivan also exchanged views on developments in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Wednesday, Dr Balakrishnan will meet Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain, and co-chairman of the Asean Congressional Caucus, Congressman Joaquin Castro.  

After Washington, Dr Balakrishnan will travel to New York, where he will attend the United Nations Ocean Conference, the ministry said.