WASHINGTON, DC: Singapore’s ties with the United States have remained steadfast through nine US Presidents and three Singapore Prime Ministers, and these ties will remain regardless of the outcome of the US presidential elections, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Aug 2).
In a short speech at the White House South Lawn, where US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Mr and Mrs Lee at an official arrival ceremony before the leaders' meeting in the Oval Office, Mr Lee said Singapore will maintain its bipartisan links with whichever party wins the elections in November.
“We will continue to build and deepen our economic and security relationships. We are partners in tackling the scourge of ISIS and other forms of violent extremism. Our armed forces take part in exercises together and interact regularly,” he said.
Mr Lee also said that the two leaders will discuss expanding their “already extensive cooperation” to new areas, including cyber-security and smart cities.
But he also noted that ties between Singapore and the US “reach beyond the government offices and corporate boardrooms, to the hearts and minds of our people”.
“In my many visits to America, I meet Singaporeans living in different states, contributing in their own ways to their host country and their respective communities. And I also meet Americans who have been to Singapore, and tell me about their Singaporean friends and their favourite hawker food!” Mr Lee said.
Thousands of Singapore students study in the US, and thousands of US companies operate out of Singapore, he said, adding that the largest American-curriculum school outside the US is the Singapore American School.
WARM WELCOME AN HONOUR FOR SINGAPORE: PM LEE
In his speech, Mr Lee also thanked Mr Obama for the invitation to visit the US despite it being a “busy year”.
“It is an honour for Singapore to be received with such a warm welcome, especially as we celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations,” he said.
The first official visit by a Singapore Prime Minister to the US was in 1967 by founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the invitation of President Lyndon Johnson, Mr Lee noted.
Singapore was then newly independent, struggling to build a modern economy and had no means to defend itself. But Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not come to seek economic or military aid, PM Lee said.
“He came to take the measure of America’s mood and intentions. He explained to his American friends why Asia mattered to America, and why the United States’ active engagement mattered to millions of people living in Southeast Asia.”
PM Lee said the US’ presence in Asia then helped to contain the spread of communism and helped Asian countries to prosper. Nearly 50 years later, the threat of communism has disappeared, Asia is at peace and Southeast Asia has prospered.
“America’s endurance, policies and actions have contributed greatly to this peace and prosperity. Keeping your markets open to trade, deepening your partnership with ASEAN and cooperating with countries in the region to enhance regional security have helped create the basis for a peaceful, rules-based regional order.”
The US “rebalance” to Asia is an important affirmation of this, Mr Lee said, adding that Mr Obama’s efforts at building a constructive relationship with China will set the “strategic backdrop” for the region.
Mr Lee also touched on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), acknowledging that Mr Obama has personally pushed for the agreement to be ratified.
“I know that America has many preoccupations, both at home and abroad. Some Americans are anxious and frustrated with economic uncertainty and the uneven results of globalisation, trade and foreign engagement.
“But the US has many interests, investments and friends in the region. These strengthen the United States. Singapore fervently hopes that the US will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia-Pacific,” Mr Lee said.
“Not only will the TPP benefit American workers and businesses, it will send a clear and vital signal that America will continue to lead in the Asia-Pacific, and enhance the partnerships that link our destinies together.”
SINGAPORE AND THE US ARE "SOLID-ROCK PARTNERS": OBAMA
Speaking at the White House South Lawn alongside Mr Lee, Mr Obama noted that Singapore and the US are "solid-rock partners" and that Singapore "is an anchor of (the US') presence in the region".
The US President welcomed Mr and Mrs Lee in Singapore's four official languages - English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese - and added: "Singaporeans pride themselves on being the little red dot – the little red dot on many maps, but with a very big impact on the world."
"In less than a generation, under the vision and stewardship of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans transformed their nation from third world to first. They did this with almost no natural resources except one: The people of Singapore and their commitment to education, and to progress and to innovation."
As the US rebalanced its foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific, Mr Obama noted that "Singapore - and Prime Minister Lee in particular - have been solid-rock partners".
"Singapore is an anchor of our presence in the region – we stand together for a regional order where every nation large and small plays and trades by the same rules and we stand together to meet the threats of the 21st century from terrorism to the spread of disease to climate change," said Mr Obama. "In this work, we draw strength from our people – two societies built on multiculturalism and on merit."
The US President added: "In the US, we call ourselves a melting pot of different races and religions and creeds. In Singapore, it is ‘rojak’ – different parts united in a harmonious whole. We’re bound by the belief that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules you will make it. What Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said of his country can be said of us: Both are populations of triers, prepared to try anything to improve ourselves. We have only the future to go in quest of."
On the friendships between the people of Singapore and the US, Mr Obama said: "Our Singaporean friends say that a long road reveals the strength of your horse; a long time reveals the heart of your friends.
"I first saw the heart of the people of Singapore as a young boy during my years living in Southeast Asia," said the US President, who spent several years in Jakarta growing up. "We see it now in the proud Singaporean Americans who enrich our nation and who join us today, including a lot of uncles and aunties.
"We see it in all the Singaporean officers who attend military academies – more than the rest of Asia combined.
"We see our friendships in the collaborations between our innovators and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to Singapore’s Block 71."
Mr Obama quipped: "In fact, I understand the Prime Minister himself recently wrote a program to solve Sudoku puzzles - which Michelle will want."