PM Lee calls for US to deepen economic ties in Asia-Pacific

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the US Capitol on March 30, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for the United States to develop and grow its economic ties with the Asia-Pacific region as he met Democrat and Republican leaders on Wednesday (March 30).

The Biden administration is due to release its Indo-Pacific economic framework soon, which will lay out its economic strategy for the region.

"We hope to see these bear fruit in the years to come," said PM Lee, who is on a working visit to the US that ends on Saturday.

There has been some concern in Washington that US economic engagement in the region is lacking compared with China's deepening integration with other Asian economies.

The US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership mega trade deal in 2017, which eventually evolved to become the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). China has applied to join the CPTPP.

America's exit from the trade deal was now "water under the bridge", PM Lee said earlier in the day at a dialogue organised by the Council on Foreign Relations.

He acknowledged the political climate, which has made it difficult for Washington to push for a trade liberalisation deal, but hoped that the Indo-Pacific economic framework would be "as substantive as possible".

"What it should do is be a positive agenda for the US on economic cooperation with countries in the Asia-Pacific. An agenda which is inclusive, an agenda which is forward-looking, and an agenda which has something in it of an upside for both parties," he said.

The US government's system of checks and balances means that support from Congress - or the lack thereof - is often crucial, and can make or break the White House's legislative agenda.

Bipartisan support for Singapore

PM Lee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both spoke of the mutually beneficial relationship between Singapore and the US, in brief remarks to reporters before his meeting with congressional leaders in the US Capitol.

A dozen US lawmakers attended, including congressional leaders from both parties. They included House majority leader Steny Hoyer, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, and the chairs of the House of Representatives' ways and means, foreign affairs and budget committees.

"The US-Singapore bond is a very important one to our country. And so we look forward to our discussion about our mutual security, about our economic opportunities and development, and about how we address the climate crisis... in a rules-based order," said Ms Pelosi.

PM Lee also said that Singapore was "very grateful for the longstanding bipartisan support" from Congress.

He cited as an example how Congress' National Defence Authorisation Act names Singapore as a Major Security Cooperation Partner of the US, the only country to have that designation.

The close security partners cooperate on a wide range of security issues in the region, from border security, maritime security, military preparedness and counter-proliferation to cyber security and counter-terrorism.

PM Lee and Ms Pelosi last met when he was on an official working trip to the US in October 2017. She is also scheduled to visit Singapore soon.

PM Lee's press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin, said that the lawmakers expressed strong support for the robust and multifaceted bilateral relationship between Singapore and the US.

"Prime Minister Lee welcomed the bipartisan support for a strong US presence and sustained economic engagement of the region," she said, adding that he and Congress members also exchanged views on international and regional developments, including the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

"Both sides agreed on the importance of a stable, rules-based international order," she said in a statement.

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The Prime Minister also met Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan separately on Wednesday.

PM Lee and Mr Sullivan had a wide-ranging discussion on bilateral relations and regional and international developments, including the crisis in Ukraine, said Ms Chang.

"PM Lee welcomed the US commitment to strengthen its engagement of the region and Asean, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework," she said.

PM Lee with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on March 30, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

PM Lee looked forward to the upcoming Asean-US Summit to be hosted by President Joe Biden in Washington, she added.

The Biden administration had originally announced a special summit in late March between Mr Biden and leaders of the regional bloc, but it was postponed.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden said he looked forward to hosting the summit in Washington "this spring".

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