WASHINGTON DC: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Donald Trump on Monday (Oct 23) took US-Singapore relations forward in witnessing the signing of a deal for Singapore Airlines (SIA) to purchase 39 Boeing aircraft worth close to US$14 billion.
Calling it a win-win for both sides, Mr Lee said the deal would further modernise SIA’s fleet and support American jobs.
"YOU WERE THERE BEFORE MOST"
Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr Trump after their bilateral meeting at the Oval Office, Mr Lee described the US-Singapore relationship as “deep and wide”, with substantial cooperation in the areas of economic, defence and security.
To strengthen security cooperation, Mr Lee said Singapore will extend to 2018 its support to the US-led coalition to defeat Islamic State.
Singapore, as the only Asian country to have contributed both military assets and personnel, has lent “early and consistent” support to the coalition, said Mr Lee.
"Singapore was the first Southeast Asian nation to join the coalition to defeat ISIS," Mr Trump noted. "That was very far thinking. You were there before most."
Describing US-Singapore defence ties as “very strong”, Mr Lee said Singapore supports American military presence in the region. Since 1990, Singapore has hosted United States Air Force and Navy aircraft and ships on rotational deployments.
The US has also hosted more than 1,000 Singapore military personnel each year in training detachments.
Mr Trump said: "When Hurricane Harvey struck our Gulf Coast in late August, Singapore deployed its own helicopters to help transport personnel and critical resources to areas in need. And the Prime Minister told me that and called me, and made that request himself. It was a great help, and we want to thank you very much - the use of your helicopters."
“We are glad to have been of help,” said Mr Lee.
The US President also cited the collision between the USS John McCain and an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore.
"Singapore came to our immediate assistance," Mr Trump said. "On behalf of all Americans, I want to thank the Prime Minister and the people of Singapore for their support, which has been tremendous, and for their friendship."
He added: "Our friendship has never been stronger than it is right now."
IMPORTANT ECONOMIC PARTNERS
On the economic front, the Prime Minister noted the US is an important partner for many countries in Asia, just as Asia as whole is an important economic partner for the US.
The economic relationship is mutual. Singapore is the second largest Asian investor in the US, with more than US$70 billion in stock investments. Total annual trade in goods and services amounts to more than US$68 billion.
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.
Mr Lee also noted that the US has consistently run a trade surplus with Singapore, which stood at over US$18 billion in 2016.
The US exports more than US$43 billion of goods and services annually to Singapore.
On a per capita basis, every Singaporean is buying US$7,500 worth of American goods and services yearly – from iPhones and pharmaceutical products, tyres and golf clubs to financial and consultancy services.
“I discovered that my New Balance shoes were made in the US, probably from New England,” quipped Mr Lee.
ON NORTH KOREA – PRESSURE IS NECESSARY, BUT SO IS DIALOGUE
Both leaders also discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Mr Lee said that like the US, Singapore condemns North Korea’s dangerous provocations, but there is no easy and quick solution.
“Pressure is necessary, but so is dialogue. The US will need to work with others, including China, to resolve the issue.”
"THE MOST IMPORTANT BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP IN THE WORLD"
Mr Trump will be visiting China in November, as part of his first trip to Asia and Mr Lee said Singapore, like many other countries, watches US-China relations closely.
Mr Lee described US-China ties as “the most important bilateral relationship in the world.”
He expressed his hope that the US will maintain a stable and constructive relationship with China as good US-China relations will benefit the region, and the world.
“They will enable countries in the Asia Pacific, including the US and China themselves, to enjoy regional stability, peace and prosperity,” he said.
China is the US’ third largest export market for both goods and services and the second largest market for US agricultural exports including soybeans, grains, and cotton, as well as farming machinery.
APEC AND ASEAN
Mr Trump will also head to Vietnam and the Philippines next month for the APEC and ASEAN meetings.
“His presence in Asia will mean a lot to the US’ many friends and allies in the region and will open doors and develop markets for US exporters and investors.”
Mr Trump will not be visiting Singapore this time round, but Mr Lee has invited him to do so at the earliest opportunity. "I'm very glad he has accepted," Mr Lee added.
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.
Mr Lee spoke earlier Monday at the Economic Club of Washington DC, where he said there is great scope for American businesses to grow new markets, make fresh investments and create prosperity on both sides of the Pacific.
He also urged the US not to lose out on opportunities in Asia.
Mr Trump hosted Mr Lee to a working luncheon together with cabinet secretaries and key White House officials, after witnessing the signing of the SIA-Boeing deal, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said on Monday.
It added that Mr Trump has accepted Mr Lee's invitation to visit Singapore next year.
Mr Lee also met Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, during which they reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial trade and investment linkages between Singapore and the US, and the importance of continued US economic engagement of the Asia-Pacific, the statement added.