WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described his official working visit to the US as “useful” and said the Americans were “receptive to talking to us, hearing our views, getting a perspective of the region and what we would like the United States to do.”
Speaking to the Singapore media towards the end of his trip on Wednesday (Oct 25), Mr Lee said: “I think we have been able to put our points across that they understand that it is important for America to be engaged in Asia, that Asia relies greatly on America’s participation in economics, security, and many other areas, and this should continue under the new administration."
Mr Lee said bilateral relations are good and mentioned the US$13.8 billion deal for Singapore Airlines (SIA) to purchase 39 Boeing aircraft which was inked during Mr Lee’s visit to the White House on Monday.
He had described the deal as a win-win for both sides as it will further modernise SIA’s fleet and support 70,000 American jobs.
He said such deals are beneficial to Singapore as a whole. "It means we are buying things from America, at the same time it means that the Americans are investing in Singapore and in a very big way.
"Thousands of American companies, MNCs in Singapore generate tens of thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of jobs. Therefore, it is important for us to manage this relationship and to keep on cultivating the Americans at many levels."
Singapore is the largest Asian recipient of foreign direct investments from the US and over 4,200 US MNCs have a business presence in Singapore.
“I hope it (the visit) would have left an impression with them and will help to keep America a little bit more focused and engaged in the region,” he said.
However, as the Trump administration develops its policy towards Asia, Mr Lee said: "How to do it, what specific trade policies to pursue, these are things they have to think about and they will think about."
US’ TOP PREOCCUPATION IS NORTH KOREA
Beyond bilateral relations, Mr Lee and President Trump had discussed security issues including North Korea’s nuclear programme.
“Their top preoccupation right now is North Korea, which is a security problem for them, actually for the whole region and the world.
"And it is one where we exchanged views, and I think it has been useful to have a different perspective even though there are no easy solutions.”
Earlier, in the week, Mr Lee had said, “Pressure (on North Korea) is necessary, but so is dialogue. The US will need to work with others, including China, to resolve the issue.”
In a joint statement released on Tuesday the two leaders had reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea and to consider additional measures to compel the North Korean regime to engage in “meaningful dialogue about a different future”.
COVERED A LOT OF GROUND
Mr Lee noted that the visit "covered a lot of ground".
“The President is one level – I met him this time – but also his officials, the private sector business people, the think-tanks, the intelligentsia. It is also necessary for us to touch base with Senators, with Congressmen, because they have a big part to play in the American political system.”
While in Washington, Mr Lee had separate meetings with Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and National Security Advisor H R McMaster.
The Prime Minister also met key Congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin, and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Mr Lee also had dinner with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, during which they discussed how Singapore and the US could further strengthen the strong bilateral trade and investment linkages, the importance of sustained US economic engagement of Southeast Asia given the region’s growing importance, as well as economic priorities of the administration both domestically and towards Asia.
Mr Lee also met Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Thursday.
Mr Lee’s visit to Washington saw the two countries reaffirming their strong and enduring multi-faceted partnership especially in the economic, defense, security, and people-to-people spheres.
CLOSER ECONOMIC AND SECURITY TIES
Moving forward, the two leaders said they support the expansion of economic ties through closer cooperation in areas such as bilateral tax issues. The two countries aim to sign two new agreements on this by the end of the year.
Singapore is one of the US’ closest economic and strategic partners in Asia.
The economic relationship is underpinned by the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which entered into force in 2004. It is the US’ first bilateral trade agreement with a country in Asia.
The US is Singapore’s third largest trading partner country and the largest outside Asia. Bilateral goods and services trade totalled US$68.4 billion in 2016 equivalent to over 20 per cent of Singapore’s GDP.
The US has maintained a trade surplus with Singapore since 2001 which totalled US$18.3 billion in 2016. The US is also the top Foreign Direct Investor in Singapore with investment stock worth US$259 billion in 2016.
The trip also saw further strengthening of security cooperation, including transnational security and terrorism. Singapore extended to 2018, its support for the US-led coalition to defeat Islamic State.
SUSTAINED ECONOMIC ENGAGEMENT WITH ASIA
During his visit, Mr Lee urged the US to continue to adopt a policy of sustained economic engagement of the region as Asia has abundant opportunities for US businesses.
Mr Lee’s visit comes just ahead of Mr Trump's planned trip to Asia in early November, during which he is expected to make stops in Japan, South Korea, China.
President Trump will also head to Vietnam and the Philippines next month for the APEC and ASEAN meetings.
Singapore will be the ASEAN Chair next year, and Mr Lee said Singapore hopes to strengthen its ties with the US, and further ASEAN-US cooperation.
President Trump has accepted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's invitation to visit Singapore next year.