Saturday 30 July 2016

Singapore and the United States - reliable partners

By Vivian Balakrishnan, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2016

Next week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make an official visit to Washington, DC at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

This is a rare honour. The last time a similar invitation was extended was in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan invited Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

This year, we celebrate 50 years of excellent diplomatic relations with the United States. The US values Singapore as a reliable friend and close strategic partner in South-east Asia.

Singapore and the US have a shared commitment to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific within an open, inclusive, balanced and rules-based regional architecture.

When we established diplomatic relations, Singapore was a newly independent nation facing profound economic challenges and the imminent threat of militant communism. The US' stabilising presence in South-east Asia provided security and time for Singapore and other non- communist countries in the region to develop and prosper in a free market.

Investments by American companies helped to create many high quality jobs for Singaporeans, provided access to modern technology and entry to markets in developed countries. This gave Singapore a significant head start in globalisation.

Today, the US remains our largest foreign direct investor, with over 3,700 American companies headquartered here.

Building on the US-Singapore free trade agreement, we are its largest trading partner in South-east Asia. Despite our small size, we are the fourth-largest Asian foreign direct investor into the US.

We are also parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which will help to anchor the American economic and strategic presence in the region.

Defence and security constitute another key pillar of our partnership. Our armed forces regularly participate in US-led joint exercises and several of our air force detachments are deployed in the US. We also facilitate the US' presence in the region through the use of some of our facilities. We signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement last year and are looking at new areas of cooperation such as cybersecurity and counter-terrorism.

We work closely on regional platforms such as Apec, the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit. We also cooperate on the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme to provide technical assistance to other Asean countries.

Beyond these official links are the personal ties between our people. Artists, academics, scientists, students, businessmen and everyday Singaporeans and Americans have helped to advance this friendship in their own unique ways.

For instance, many Americans study in Singapore, and even more Singaporeans study in the US. Our universities have concluded tie-ups with American institutions, such as the National University of Singapore's collaboration in the Yale-NUS College and Duke-NUS Medical School; the collaboration between SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Culinary Institute of America's partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology; and the joint music degree offered by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Both countries have much to offer each other. As Singapore seeks to become a Smart Nation, there will be even more opportunities for collaboration in innovation with American entrepreneurs, tech firms and data scientists.

The recent launch of the Global Entry programme for Singaporean visitors to the US and American visitors to Singapore will help to facilitate these people-to-people exchanges.

In the last 50 years, we have built a strong relationship grounded on mutual trust and understanding.

As friends, we do not have to agree on everything. Occasional differences are discussed openly and constructively.

Prime Minister Lee's visit will be an excellent opportunity to celebrate this special partnership and help cement the enduring friendship between our people for the long term.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

PM Lee's trip to the US is the first official visit by Singapore PM since 1985
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives tomorrow in the US capital Washington for a six-day official visit that is a first by a Singapore prime minister since 1985.

The visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries and underscores their close and longstanding partnership, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement yesterday.

US President Barack Obama will welcome Mr Lee at an official arrival ceremony at the White House South Lawn on Tuesday before their meeting in the Oval Office.

Later that day, Mr Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host PM Lee and his wife to a state dinner, an honour accorded by the Obama administration to only 11 other occasions in eight years. Four of them were for Asian countries: India, China, South Korea and Japan.

During his stay, Mr Lee will meet several senior members of the United States government.

On Tuesday, at the State Department, Vice-President Joe Biden, his wife Jill and Secretary of State John Kerry will host a state luncheon for Mr and Mrs Lee.

Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter will host PM Lee to lunch on Monday, the day after his arrival, and there will be separate meetings between him and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan.

The Prime Minister will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. He will also speak at a reception jointly hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-Asean Business Council that day.

Earlier, on Sunday, he will meet Singaporeans at a National Day reception in the Singapore Embassy.

Mr Lee's visit provides an opportunity for both countries to renew and expand bilateral cooperation, the Prime Minister's Office said.

The Obama administration has made considerable effort in building ties with Asia in pursuit of its strategy to rebalance its military and diplomatic interests towards the region.

In February, a special Asean-US summit was held in California which Mr Lee attended. During his week-long working trip, he also met the chiefs of US technology giants such as Apple and Facebook.

But his upcoming official visit is special. It will be the fifth such visit by a Singapore prime minister. The previous four were made by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1967, 1973, 1975 and 1985.

Accompanying PM Lee next week are Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, and Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Three MPs will also be in the delegation: Mr Christopher de Souza, Ms Rahayu Mahzam and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong.

In Mr Lee's absence, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will be the Acting Prime Minister.


Barack Obama to host PM Lee Hsien Loong to state dinner at White House in August
Dinner at the White House
Official Visit by PM Lee Hsien Loong to The United States of America

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