SINGAPORE: Ahead of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's official visit to the United States, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan spoke to Channel NewsAsia's Nicholas Fang on the significance of the visit. In the first part of the interview, Dr Balakrishnan discussed the deep bilateral ties between Singapore and the US. In the second part of the interview, he discussed the future of the relationship between the two countries, and Singapore's role in helping the US engage Asia.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Channel NewsAsia: Where do you see the future of Singapore’s relationship with the US? Will it be dominated by military relations, or will trade, economic ties, people-to-people relationships or cultural exchanges play an increasing role?
Dr Balakrishnan: I don’t think any single facet will dominate. There are multiple aspects to this account. And quite frankly, I see growth in all these areas because there are both opportunities and threats, common threats that confront us.
US trade representative Michael Froman (C), Japanese Minister of Economic & Fiscal Policy Akira Amari (L) and Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang (R) at a press conference in Singapore during the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Ministerial Meeting. (AFP/Roslan Rahman)
I hope to see further increases in trade. We were the first Asian country to have a free trade agreement with the United States, that’s been around now for more than a decade and continues to underpin our common and collective commitment to free trade.
We have both signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and now we are encouraging, part of the reason why the Prime Minister would be there who will also be to advance, to advocate this message that it is important for the United States to ratify the TPP because it goes really beyond just free trade. It goes to the heart of America’s strategic engagement across the pacific to Asia.
I expect to see more investments both ways flowing between America to us, and our investments in their economy. We still view America as a key powerhouse of innovation and entrepreneurship, so there is much we can do together.
PM Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan tour the Tesla Factory as part of a visit to Silicon Valley. (Photo: Kenji Soon / MCI)
So many Singaporeans live, work, play, study there. I have been to Silicon Valley several times. Literally, the hundreds of Singaporeans who I have met there doing good work, making a difference to the companies there, and also expanding future areas of collaboration. So, that part of it will grow.
On security and on counter-terrorism, I wish we didn’t have to, but we know that this is the state of the world. So, we will have to work closely together. Within Asia, our role in ASEAN, promoting ASEAN centrality, our deep engagement with China and the fact that there is this fundamental tectonic shift occuring in the world, and we are in the middle of it. So on all aspects of this account, you are going to see developments.
IMPACT OF US LEADERSHIP CHANGE ON THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
Channel NewsAsia: How does Singapore view the upcoming leadership change in the US and how do you expect Singapore to engage with the new president, based on the presumptive nominees that have emerged on either side of the political divide in the US?
Dr Balakrishnan: Well, a couple of observations. First, over five decades, nine presidents from both Republicans and Democrats. We have good and excellent relationships and more important than that, there has been consistency and there have been no major U-turns, no major disputes or problems.
Second point is that Asia will continue to be very important for American security and economic interest, so whoever is elected for president will have to deal with this, will have to look for opportunities to pursue and will have to deal with emerging threats. So on this account as well, I expect that we will still be relevant. We will still play a role in helping America to engage with Asia.
I know that free trade has been somewhat controversial on the political scene but frankly this deeper questioning about the role of free trade is occurring all over the world. I think these debates are useful.
We have these questions that have to be answered, and deep thinking, reflective policy makers and ordinary citizens have to be convinced that this is the right way. For that the world needs to continue to believe in integration. It has to believe in investing for the future.
So, I'm quite confident. American politics can be quite bruising but I am quite confident that this is an essential and necessary process. Questions will be posed, answers will have to be formulated after that, we will have to get back to work.