Monday 20 February 2012

Milestone in US-Singapore relations

Strategic Partnership Dialogue elevates discourse and bilateral ties to a higher level
By David Adelman, Published The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2012

Singapore is often described as a country punching above its weight. And that is certainly true with regard to US-Singapore relations.

Going from strength to strength, recent developments have moved our bilateral relationship up a weight class. A few days ago, I returned from Washington, DC where we launched the US-Singapore Strategic Partnership Dialogue (SPD) during a week when bilateral relations between our two countries received more attention than at any other time in recent history.

The SPD promises to profoundly elevate US-Singapore relations. The United States participates in strategic dialogues with many countries, but few carry the significance of the one launched with Singapore. The Feb1 signing of the SPD by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam gives testament to the strengthening US engagement in Asia that has been on full display over the last few years.

US-Singapore relations are multi-faceted and have historically rested on the twin pillars of security and trade. Leaders in both countries, however, have recognised the need for a third pillar establishing an elevated political and economic dialogue for purposes of ensuring that our mutual interests are protected over the long term.

As the world looks to Asia as an engine for growth and development, new, non-traditional challenges are emerging, including trans-national terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, critical environmental issues including climate change, and the need for preparedness to respond to large-scale disasters. The SPD provides that we will develop mechanisms to address these challenges as well as to proactively cooperate to promote values we share, such as protecting diversity and respecting the rule of law.

Importantly, the SPD also gives us a regular and institutionalised process by which we will discuss cooperation in the emerging Asian architecture, including at the East Asia Summit, with Asean, and at Apec and other regional organisations.

Perhaps the best evidence that the SPD moves the relationship to a new level came in our first meeting when we agreed to jointly extend technical assistance to developing countries, beginning with the Lower Mekong countries. This agreement extends our cooperation regionally, opening new areas of collaboration ranging from public health and education to economic development.

The inaugural meeting also demonstrated that the SPD will result in action. At the SPD signing on Feb1, the United States announced its acceptance of Singapore as a full partner under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The protection of the rights of children and their parents is precisely the type of issue on which close partners should collaborate. An annual dialogue will provide an impetus for bringing outstanding issues such as this to conclusion.

Of course, there was more to the last week in Washington than the SPD. Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat met with US Secretary of Education Arne Ducan and signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing for greater cooperation on educational issues. This important agreement enhances one of the strongest aspects of our relationship, educational exchanges.

Additionally, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran met with US Trade Representative Ron Kirk to discuss progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiations, and in his capacity as the Law Minister, Mr Shanmugam met with US Attorney-General Eric Holder.

The week culminated with a most impressive 'Singapore Conference', hosted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The list of speakers reads like a Who's Who in South-east Asian policy. For an entire day, many of the brightest Singaporean and US officials, thought leaders, business executives and journalists focused on our strategic relations, candidly and critically addressing topics ranging from the political changes taking place in Singapore to cooperation between Singapore and the United States on regional and global priorities.

This was an important week for our relationship, both looking back and moving forward. Years from now, the SPD and the other events of February will be remembered as milestones marking a turning point in the growth of US-Singapore relations.

The writer is the United States Ambassador to Singapore.

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