Tuesday 27 August 2013

S'pore top destination for US investments in Asia

Outgoing US envoy lauds country's 'very hospitable business climate'
By Ravi Velloor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2013

SINGAPORE, for the first time, has emerged as the most attractive investment destination in Asia for American companies, outperforming even China.

"The 10-year cumulative US investment in Singapore stood at US$138 billion (S$176.6 billion) at the end of 2012," United States Ambassador David Adelman, who leaves his post this week, told The Straits Times in an interview.

"You have now exceeded US investment into Japan and Australia, and you draw twice our investment into China. It is a credit to the Government of Singapore that it has created this very hospitable business climate in probably the best location in the world."

The 10-year investment figure - which jumped from US$116 billion the year before - is among the most visible highlights of the tightening strategic embrace between the most powerful nation and tiny Singapore, perhaps Asia's most admired country.

Mr Adelman, 49, highlighted two agreements that underscore the tight relationship - last year's strategic partnership dialogue agreement inked by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme.

The first is reserved for only America's best friends while the proof of the latter's success is that in just 18 months, the two countries conducted no less than eight programmes for participants from Asean countries. Both programmes will pay long-term dividends, he predicted.

Meanwhile, according to US figures, Singapore investments in the US amounted to US$22 billion at the end of 2011.

People-level contacts also have accelerated, with 27,000 American residents on this island, thousands of Singaporean students enrolled in American universities and at any given time, between 800 and 1,000 Singapore military personnel training in the US.

Saying bilateral ties have "never been better", Mr Adelman said two broad elements had provided the potent mix that underscores the relationship.

First, the US rebalance towards Asia with Singapore as its anchor in South-east Asia. Second, this occurred at a time when Singapore was "an exceptionally willing partner".

While two-way trade - currently topping US$50 billion a year, overwhelmingly favouring the US - will increase and the strategic ties are set to deepen, one area that needs more attention is law enforcement cooperation.

"We have a strong, robust law enforcement relationship and we will continue to look for ways to strengthen it," he said, without elaborating.

The grandson of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, Mr Adelman sounded a warning on the debate around foreigners in Singapore.

While Singapore had exceptional intellectual property protection and the rule of law, an important element of its attractiveness to foreign capital that must be preserved is its ability to draw talent from across the world, a factor that has even helped strengthen Singapore businesses.

"Government officials in Singapore recognise that. It is for them to strike a balance. American businesses and investors are watching it closely. I would even broaden it - all foreign investors are watching it very closely," he said.

Asked what he made of American scientist Shane Todd's death last year, since declared a suicide, Mr Adelman said dealing with tragedies was an unfortunate part of every ambassador's job.

He twice met the Todd family, who were inconsolable.

"Representatives of the US Embassy were present every minute during the coroner's proceedings, and we issued a statement at the conclusion that we believe was comprehensive, transparent and fair, and it adhered to the traditional standards of due process. We respect the decision."


- More investment: 10-year cumulative US investment here at the end of last year was US$138 billion (S$176.6 billion), up from US$116 billion in 2011.
- More contact: There are 27,000 Americans living in Singapore, thousands of Singaporean students enrolled in US universities, and between 800 and 1,000 Singapore military personnel training in the US.

US envoy bowing out - with satisfaction
But outgoing ambassador will stay on here to pursue business interest
By Ravi Velloor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2013

SITTING on the verandah of his sumptuous villa near Holland Village, comfortably clad in a cotton shirt and khakis held up by a golfer's belt over leather loafers, Mr David Adelman looks out on tropical vegetation as he expresses satisfaction over his 31/2 year stint as the American envoy.

Not far from his home is Ford Avenue, a reminder of an early American manufacturing presence on the island. Later came big names like Hewlett-Packard, DuPont and Seagate Technology, which not only boosted Singapore's status as an advanced manufacturing centre but also helped spawn home-grown managerial legends like Mr Koh Boon Hwee.

The flood of investments has not ebbed. Indeed, 49-year-old Mr Adelman's diary has been chock-full of appearances at plant openings and extensions as companies spanning pharmaceuticals to aerospace establish manufacturing and research facilities on the island.

At home, the American economic revival is on track. For those in Asia who worry that United States budget deficits will prevent a full strategic pivot or re-balancing towards the region, here is news, he says: The deficit is shrinking.

It is a good time to bow out. As he ends his tenure, Singapore, he notes with satisfaction, is America's most favoured investment spot in all Asia.

A political appointee, Mr Adelman explains why he was an early backer of then senator Barack Obama's presidential ambitions.

"I believed in the run up to elections that America's hard-earned goodwill around the world had diminished and that it was important in 2008 that we elect someone who would restore that goodwill," he says. "I believed Barack Obama would be the person. I also thought it was time my generation should lead the country. We were close in age. His two children are close in age to my three."

Has America's first black president lived up to the promise?

Mr Adelman ponders the question. He notes that the 44th president came to office at a time of great economic challenge and kept his word on winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was eliminated in 2011. The economy is strengthening. American businesses have shed a lot of their debt. Families are de-leveraged as well.

"I think the President has a lot to be proud of."

Sipping coffee and munching cupcakes, Mr Adelman suggests he was well prepared for the Singapore assignment, not just from boning up on his briefing books.

His taste for spicy laksa was in-built, for example, in his fondness for "hawker-style wet noodles". And he regularly snacks on nasi lemak. A month ago, he and his wife Caroline drove on a whim to a Little India restaurant that serves Bengali food.

Still, his innings in Singapore had a hint of controversy even before it began. At his confirmation hearings before the US Congress, Mr Adelman said he intended to use public diplomacy to work towards greater press freedoms, freedom of assembly and ultimately, more space for opposition parties in Singapore.

Perhaps it did not need a heave from the American ambassador to accomplish that.

"Singapore has changed in many ways over the last four years," he notes. "PM Lee Hsien Loong described the elections in 2011 as a watershed. And he recently gave an interview to The Washington Post where he describes Singapore's politics as to-ing and fro-ing. Singapore's politics is increasingly a marketplace of ideas and continues to develop."

The Government here has made nascent moves to regulate the online media during his tenure here, prompting companies such as Google to write letters of concern. Mr Adelman defends online freedom, saying the content brought to the public square by such companies is a great benefit, promoting open discussion, which is a bedrock American principle.

A trained lawyer, he cites former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's thinking to bolster his argument.

"Lee Kuan Yew once spoke about this and concluded it could not really be regulated while suggesting that China's efforts to block the Internet were futile," he says. "I think he got it right. We are watching this very closely."

Likewise, he chuckles when asked whether his stint has given him a better appreciation of the Singaporean governance model.

"Singapore government officials are thoughtful. They are excellent city planners and administrators," he offers. "Let me put it this way: I have a fuller appreciation of the challenges that come to Singapore because it is such a small country. I think the Government has clearly done a terrific job developing this country and the proof is in the pudding."

The son of a hardware salesman and a nurse, Mr Adelman was born in New York City but built his public career as a lawyer and state senator in the southern state of Georgia. He has been publicly lauded for his pro bono work for US veterans and helping those affected by domestic violence. Coming from a family surrounded by love, where his father never raised his voice, much less a fist, helped make him aware of how pervasive domestic violence was in the US, he says.

"It is an incredible honour to represent those victims. We are all at our best when we are able to give voice to those who do not have a strong voice of their own."

So, what now that his tenure is ending? Back to the land of Coca- Cola, as Bob Dylan would say, or is Georgia on his mind?

Well, here is the surprise.

"I am going to stay here," says Mr Adelman. "I am going back to private life. I am going to have a business interest in Singapore and elsewhere in the region. My family is thriving here. The US will always be home. But Americans are increasingly engaged around the world and I am a part of that."


Singapore government officials are thoughtful. They are excellent city planners and administrators. Let me put it this way: I have a fuller appreciation of the challenges that come to Singapore because it is such a small country.

- Outgoing American ambassador to Singapore David Adelman

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