Friday 22 June 2012

Achievement award for Chan Heng Chee

Asia Society fetes long-serving S'pore envoy for forging strong US-Asia ties
By Tracy Quek, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2012

WASHINGTON - The long-serving Singapore Ambassador to the United States, Professor Chan Heng Chee, has been awarded the Asia Society's first Diplomatic Achievement Award for her contributions to building strong and lasting ties between the US and Asia.

Presenting the inaugural award to Prof Chan at the society's awards dinner on Tuesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said Prof Chan, who has served for 16 years in the US, was a 'bridge' between not only Singapore and Washington, but also Asia and the US.

'When we think about how to bridge the remarkable distance... between the US and Asia, we think about institutions, programmes, educational exchanges. For me, the model of the bridge is Ambassador Chan,' Mr Campbell told more than 300 guests, among them the ambassadors of China, India, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as senior US officials, business leaders and members of Congress.

'More than any other person I've worked with over the past 20 years, she's been the person that I've quietly turned to, and so many of us have turned to, for advice about how to be more effective in our diplomacy, how to be softer in some of our engagement with Asian friends and how to build those ties that are so essential,' added Mr Campbell, who called Prof Chan one of his oldest friends.

The annual dinner is one of Washington's most high-profile events that focus on US-Asia relations. It was one of many farewell events held by Washington's diplomats, business and cultural groups over the past months for Prof Chan, 70, who will return to Singapore after July 14. She will take on an advisory role at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As one of the longest-serving foreign ambassadors to the US, Prof Chan said in a speech at the dinner that she was frequently asked how US-Singapore ties and diplomacy had evolved.

'My reply is our bilateral relationship has changed because Singapore has changed. The US-Singapore relationship has broadened and deepened. When I arrived as ambassador in 1996, our interests were not as wide-ranging,' she told a packed ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Then, it was focused on trade and investments, defence cooperation and political cooperation, bilaterally and in multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organisation, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the Asean Regional Forum, she noted.

But today, the Singapore economy has 'become more diversified and sophisticated, so our interest in engaging the United States changed to cover many more areas and deepened', she said.

Singapore, for example, actively sought and concluded the bilateral free trade agreement with the US, and is one of nine countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The US and Singapore also have deep collaborations in education and culture, said Prof Chan. She concluded that 'the state of our bilateral relationship is strong'.

Mr Matthew Stumpf, director of the Asia Society's Washington Office, told The Straits Times: 'We wanted to create the award because of the impact that Ambassador Chan has had on building US-Singapore relations, and it is very fitting that she is the first recipient of the award that we intend to give every year to diplomats who make similar contributions.'

At Tuesday's dinner, the Asia Society also awarded former undersecretary of defence for policy Michele Flournoy the Asia Society Policy Achievement Award, in recognition of her contributions to the rebalancing of US defence and diplomacy towards Asia.

US ambassadors John Negroponte, Thomas Pickering and Frank Wisner received the Asia Society Lifetime Achievement Award for their dedication to improving relations between the US and Asia.

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