Wednesday 25 October 2017

President Donald Trump welcomes PM Lee Hsien Loong to the White House on 23 October 2017

Singapore-US friendship has never been stronger, says Trump
US President lauds ties, calling Republic one of America's closest strategic partners in Asia
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2017

The friendship between Singapore and the United States "has never been stronger than it is right now", President Donald Trump said after hosting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the White House.

"Singapore is one of our closest strategic partners in Asia," he said after a four-eye meeting with PM Lee and a working lunch which included Vice-President Mike Pence and ministers from both sides.

"The US-Singapore relationship has made both of our peoples far more prosperous and secure, and our values have made us longstanding friends. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful and loyal partner."

Both Mr Trump and PM Lee also spoke of the robust and enduring relationship between the two countries and of their commitment to build on these ties in statements made on Monday at the Rose Garden of the White House.

PM Lee said: "It is a deep and wide relationship with substantial cooperation in economic, defence and security spheres. We also discussed what more we could do to take it forward."

They also witnessed the signing of a US$13.8 billion (S$19 billion) agreement between Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Boeing for 39 new planes.

Mr Trump, who said the deal would create some 70,000 jobs, also noted that Singapore's commitment to the rule of law, intellectual property protection and to being fair and reciprocal had attracted more than 4,000 US companies to Singapore.

PM Lee said the aircraft deal would enable SIA to further modernise its fleet.

He also thanked the US for hosting more than 1,000 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel each year in detachments in Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas.

Mr Trump, in turn, thanked Singapore for deploying its Texas-based Chinook helicopters for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey, and for Singapore's help after the USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore in late August.

PM Lee replied: "We are glad to have been of some help to our very gracious hosts."

PM Lee also announced that Singapore will extend its deployment of SAF assets and personnel to the global coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group into next year.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Manila, after meeting his US counterpart James Mattis, that Singapore will continue to contribute a KC-135R tanker aircraft, an Imagery Analysis Team and a medical team for an additional year.

In Washington, Mr Trump and PM Lee also discussed regional security.

"Our two nations also share an unwavering commitment to countering the North Korean threat and promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," said Mr Trump.

PM Lee said Singapore strongly opposes the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, as it affects the region's peace and stability.

He shared what Singapore had done to pressure and isolate North Korea, but said there is no quick and easy solution.

"Pressure is necessary, but so is dialogue. The US will need to work with others, including China, South Korea and Japan, and Russia, to resolve the issue," he said.

PM Lee's visit comes ahead of Mr Trump's first trip to Asia.

The Prime Minister said that he hopes the US will maintain good relations with China as this will enable countries in the region to enjoy peace and prosperity.

He also looked forward to seeing Mr Trump at next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, and at the ASEAN and East Asia summits in the Philippines, saying: "His presence in Asia will mean a lot to America's many friends and allies in the region, and it will open doors and develop markets for US exporters and investors."

Mr Trump accepted PM Lee's invitation to visit next year, when Singapore chairs ASEAN and hosts its annual meetings.

PM Lee later met Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and they reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial Singapore-US trade and investment links, as well as the importance of continued US economic engagement of the Asia-Pacific.

Today, PM Lee speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations and meets key congressional leaders.

SIA-Boeing $19 billion deal a 'win-win' for both sides
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2017

WASHINGTON • Singapore Airlines (SIA) has signed a deal with American aircraft manufacturer Boeing to buy 39 aeroplanes worth almost US$14 billion (S$19 billion).

The signing ceremony at the White House's Roosevelt Room on Monday was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is on an official working visit to the United States, and President Donald Trump, who said the deal would create some 70,000 American jobs.

Boeing said the transaction will sustain thousands of US suppliers as well as 70,000 direct and indirect US jobs during the delivery period of the contract.

PM Lee later said: "It is a win-win for both sides. It will further modernise SIA's fleet and will also support many American jobs."

Under the deal, SIA will buy 20 Boeing 777-9s and 19 787-10 Dreamliners over the next decade.

SIA chief executive officer Goh Choon Phong and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO and president Kevin McAllister signed the agreement, with SIA chairman Peter Seah present.

Mr Goh said the major order would enable the airline to continue operating a modern and fuel-efficient fleet. "These new aircraft will also provide the SIA Group with new growth opportunities, allowing us to expand our network and offer even more travel options for our customers," he added.

The 777-9s, intended mainly for long-haul routes, are due for delivery from the 2021/22 financial year, while the 787-10s, for medium-range routes, are due from the 2020/21 financial year.

SIA's first 787-10, from a previous order in 2013 for 30 aircraft, is due to be delivered in the first half of next year.

"We are thrilled to finalise their purchase," said Mr McAllister, adding that Boeing and SIA have been strong partners since the airline's first operations 70 years ago.

The deal was highlighted as a demonstration of the strong commercial ties between both countries, at a working lunch attended by PM Lee and Mr Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, as well as Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran and Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung. Also at the lunch were US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and senior adviser to the President Jared Kushner.

Mr Trump told the press later: "I want to thank the Singaporean people for their faith in the American engineering and American workers. And our American workers deliver the best product, by far."

Describing Singapore as a magnet for business, he added: "Today, over 4,000 American companies are operating in Singapore, and we have a very large trading relationship with Singapore."

PM Lee said the US is an important economic partner for many countries in Asia, just as countries in the region are important economic partners for the US.

"Singapore is a small country - we are just 5.5 million - but we have sizeable investments and trade with the US, which continue to grow," he added.

Singapore is the second-largest Asian investor in the US, with over US$70 billion in stock investments. Total trade in goods and services between both countries amounted to more than US$68 billion last year.

The US has also consistently run a trade surplus with Singapore, which stood at over US$18 billion last year, and America exported US$43 billion of goods and services to Singapore in the same period.

PM Lee said Singapore must be one of the "highest buying American customers in the world" on a per capita basis, with each person consuming on average about US$7,500 worth of American goods and services yearly.

He listed iPhones, pharmaceutical products, tyres, financial and consultancy services and golf clubs, and said to laughter: "I mean the sticks, not the associations."

Mr Trump is an avid golfer who owns several clubs.

PM Lee said he also discovered recently that his New Balance sports shoes - "which are very good" - are made in the US, probably in New England.

Singapore to extend SAF contribution to counter-ISIS coalition, says PM Lee Hsien Loong at meeting with President Trump
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, in Washington, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

Singapore will extend to next year its existing deployment of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) assets and personnel to the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

He gave this commitment to US President Donald Trump during their meetings at the White House on Monday (Oct 23, US time), Mr Lee said at a joint press conference after both leaders met.

Singapore and the United States have strong defence ties, Mr Lee said, adding that Singapore supports the US military presence in the region, and has hosted US Air Force and US Navy aircraft and ships on rotational deployments since 1990.

He also thanked the US for hosting over 1,000 Singapore military personnel each year in training detachments - in Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix and Marana, Arizona, at Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho, at Grand Prairie, Texas, and in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Republic of Singapore Air Forces (RSAF) Chinooks and military personnel in Grand Prairie were deployed to assist in disaster relief operations in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

"We are glad to have been of help," PM Lee said.

This close partnership extends to other areas of security cooperation - including transnational security, terrorism and cybersecurity, he noted.

Singapore has lent early and consistent support to the Defeat-ISIS Coalition, he added.

It is the only Asian country to contribute both military assets and personnel.

Singapore first announced its intention to contribute to the coalition in 2014.

The SAF has since deployed troops to provide imagery and intelligence analysis support to the coalition's Combined Joint Task Force, as well as a KC-135R tanker aircraft to support air-to-air refuelling operations for coalition aircraft.

The tanker squadron's contributions came during a crucial period leading up to the liberation of Mosul from ISIS in July, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen noted recently.

A SAF medical team in Iraq is also part of this effort to support coalition forces in the fight against terrorism.

Earlier in the day, PM Lee spoke at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. The session was moderated by President of the Economic Club of Washington D.C. and CEO of The Carlyle Group David Rubenstein.

In the afternoon, following their four-eye meeting in the Oval Office, PM Lee and President Trump witnessed the signing ceremony between Singapore Airlines and Boeing for the purchase of 39 Boeing planes at the White House.

President Trump subsequently hosted a working luncheon for PM Lee together with Cabinet Secretaries and key White House officials.

President Trump accepted PM Lee’s invitation to visit Singapore next year, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

PM Lee also met Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, during which they reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial trade and investment linkages between Singapore and the US, and the importance of continued US economic engagement of the Asia-Pacific, the statement said.

PM Lee underlines importance of US relations
Strong economic links underpin ties, with US firms, investments generating plenty of jobs
By Zakir Hussain Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2017

American companies and investments in Singapore generate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs for Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.

It is therefore important for Singapore to maintain good relations with the United States, and for the US to remain engaged in Asia, he told Singapore reporters when summing up his six-day official working visit to the country.

It has been a useful trip, he said.

As President Donald Trump is due to travel to Asia next week, "they were receptive to talking to us, hearing our views, getting a perspective of the region and what we would like the United States to do".

PM Lee believed that Singapore had been able to put its points across, and that "the US understands it is important for America to be engaged in Asia, that Asia relies greatly on America's participation in economics, security and many other areas, and this should continue under the new administration".

"How to do it, what specific trade policies to pursue, these are things they have to think about and they will think about," he added.

PM Lee and Mr Trump had on Monday witnessed the signing of a deal for Singapore Airlines to buy 39 planes from aircraft manufacturer Boeing, an order Boeing said will sustain more than 70,000 direct and indirect US jobs for the company, its suppliers and others.

"It means we are buying things from America, at the same time it means the Americans are investing in Singapore and in a very big way," PM Lee said, in underlining the strong US-Singapore economic ties.

More than 4,200 American multinational companies have a presence in Singapore.

"Therefore, it is important for us to manage this relationship and to keep on cultivating the Americans at many levels," he said.

During his visit, which ended yesterday, PM Lee met President Trump at the White House, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

He also addressed the Economic Club of Washington and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and met key congressional leaders and Singaporeans in Washington.

At the CFR on Wednesday, he spoke about Asia's dynamism and growth, and noted that even as the US may be rethinking and readjusting its priorities, its prosperity and security are closely linked to Asia.

PM Lee also highlighted the importance of stable Sino-US relations to regional and global stability.

He said he was heartened that officials he met were aware the US had to remain involved in Asia.

He held separate meetings with Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen met Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, who reiterated that the US Navy would not only continue its influence in the Asia-Pacific, but intended to grow it - and would increase the number of ships in its order of battle.

The Prime Minister's Office said that in his meetings on Capitol Hill, PM Lee welcomed the bipartisan support for the US' strong engagement of Asia and highlighted the enduring strategic and economic importance of the region to the US.

The members of Congress also expressed appreciation for and affirmed Singapore's close partnership with the US, and discussed regional and international developments with him.

PM Lee had dinner with National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and discussed how their countries could further strengthen the already-strong trade and investment linkages, the importance of sustained US economic engagement of South-east Asia, and the administration's economic priorities at home and towards Asia.

"We covered a lot of ground this time," PM Lee said of his trip.

"I hope it would have left an impression with them and will help to keep America a little bit more focused and engaged in the region."

PM Lee Hsien Loong's Speech and Dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations

US 'has key role in ensuring Asia's peace and stability'
By Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2017

WASHINGTON • The United States cannot disengage itself from Asia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, as it has a key role in ensuring the region's peace and stability.

He added that how America responds to the changing strategic landscape will affect the global balance of power and international order. "The Chinese are influential, growing more so, and need to be accommodated in a stable and constructive way into the regional and global system," he said.

PM Lee was speaking at a dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, where he spoke about Singapore's hopes for the new administration and his thoughts on Sino-US ties.

He also noted that even as the US should stay involved in the region, it has to work on its relationship with China and ensure that it remains constructive and not tense.

Citing North Korea, he said of the US' role: "It is not going to be easily solved, but certainly it will never be solved if you are not there and actively a participant."

He noted the US had opened its markets and provided peace and security in Asia over the past 75 years. And as it faces internal pressures to turn inward, it must be conscious of its role and responsibilities.

He said: "With a rising set of players on the West Coast of the Pacific, where does America want to go? Do you want to be engaged, do you want to participate more, do you want to deepen your economic relations? Or do you want to find some other balance, which really will leave the determination of affairs to other participants in the region?"

PM Lee said the region can take comfort that US Cabinet members who have visited the region "have stated positions which have given us a lot of comfort and reassurance", and know what the US needs to do.

Still, President Donald Trump's coming visit was important in signalling his administration's commitment, he said, adding: "We look forward to receiving your President soon and hearing similar messages from him - he is the Commander in Chief, and he sets the tone."

The dialogue, PM Lee's second at the think-tank in four years, was led by New Yorker magazine's staff writer Evan Osnos, who writes on foreign affairs.

Asked about his meetings with officials this week, Mr Lee said no one is talking about disengaging. "They are talking about engaging in a different way, they feel... somehow America hasn't quite got as long an end of the stick as it ought to, and they would like to rebalance."

PM Lee was also reassured they know America's fate depends on what happens in the rest of the world.

For countries in the region, the US-China relationship matters, he said. "If you are able to work with them on a stable, gradually evolving relationship which gives them the space to grow their influence, but in a benign way, then we are fine. We remain friends with both.

"If you have a tense relationship, and one or both (sides) say, 'You are either with me or you are against me,' then we are in a difficult spot.

"It could happen."

But China's Belt and Road Initiative to strengthen connectivity is positive for the region, which stands to benefit from investments and infrastructure that will facilitate trade, and hopefully ensure the region stays open, he added.

Asked about China's recent 19th party congress, PM Lee noted that President Xi Jinping had consolidated his position and signalled this is the start of a new era for China.

Mr Xi envisaged this extending to 2050, taking China to 100 years after the 1949 revolution.

"The Chinese say that with Mao, China stands up (zhan qi lai); with Deng, (fu qi lai), they have gotten wealthy; and now with Xi, (qiang qi lai), they are strong," he said. "What does strong mean? That is what everybody will be watching carefully."

PM Lee noted Mr Xi had set out several significant essentials - the party must be fully in charge, economic growth and international strength, including a strong armed forces - what "any normal great power would have to pay attention to".

"What we don't know is the balance, the tone and the wisdom with which these elements will unfold, and we have to wait and see," he said.

As for the Chinese economy, PM Lee said it has "a lot of energy and vibrance". While it may not have companies such as Google or Facebook, there is Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei.

The question is whether the top political leaders can make the trade-offs "to stage and manage very delicate transformations which economically are critical but politically very hard to do".

When asked for his near-term expectations of Sino-US ties, he said he hoped both sides would begin to establish a mutual understanding that would enable them to work things out over time.

He noted that when Mr Xi met Mr Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April, naysayers thought it was unwise. But it has given both leaders a basis on which to talk about other issues.

"I understand they ring up each other quite frequently. There is a line, you need that line," he said.

PM Lee on TPP-11, maritime tensions


On the way forward for the remaining 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal after the United States withdrew from it: We hope we will be able to work something out, but it is not easy. When you came in, that totally changed the picture - because you brought with you first, your markets, second, your considerable influence on what you wanted. And what you wanted isn't just access to our markets, but also rules and intellectual property and human rights and so many other things.

And having worked out a document, the basis of which is that you are the anchor participant, and now you are out, which part of the document do I keep? And if I undo some part of it, will I unravel the whole scheme? And that is what our trade ministers are working very hard on.

On how the maritime disputes in the East and South China seas could play out: They are different. The East China Sea issue is between China and Japan - two countries which have not really come to terms with history. Neither is going to give way. You could have a mishap, and then you could have an escalation. It has already nearly happened more than once.

You could have a mishap in the South China Sea too. But it is different in one very important way - the other claimant states in South-east Asia, none of them wants to collide with China.

All have got major relationships with China over many fronts - on trade, on aid, on human resources, on direct financing of all kinds of projects.

They will not go to war (over the South China Sea issue). Therefore, it sets a limit to how far things can boil over, but at the same time it means that, well, a different balance of outcomes can be expected.

On whether the saying that no political party remains in power forever applies to Singapore: I am sure it does. I don't know when it will happen, but I will not make it happen sooner than it needs to.

US must talk to North Korea even as it applies pressure: PM Lee
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2017

Even as the United States applies pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear activities, it has to talk to Pyongyang to avoid a miscalculation, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.

It also has to work with China and Russia, and have South Korea and Japan on its side in dealing with the crisis, PM Lee said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"You always have the risk of a miscalculation. This administration has made some very strong statements, but at the same time you have made clear that you do not want to go to war," he said.

"The North Koreans are not suicidal. They are taskmasters at thunders and alarums, and not without success. If you are lucky, you could get past this hard point. If you aren't, you could have a miscalculation."

Moderator Evan Osnos had asked for his assessment of how serious the risk of military confrontation was, and what the US should do to avoid it. PM Lee noted that what was different with Pyongyang's latest provocations was that it had more powerful missiles, thereby raising the stakes, yet this "does not yet qualitatively and suddenly change the picture", as the risks were always there.

"You have to apply pressure, you also have to talk. You cannot not talk because if you don't talk, it doesn't get anywhere. If you only talk, then nothing happens.

"You will just be strung out. It has happened so many times before."

PM Lee added: "To play this game, you need to work with the Chinese. And the Russians must be somewhere in the picture. Most of all, you must have the South Koreans and the Japanese on your side.

"You have to have that diplomacy as well as that realpolitik."

Was he confident of dialogue before confrontation, Mr Osnos asked. PM Lee said this was a reasonable proposition, but "whether dialogue would reach an outcome before you have a confrontation, I cannot say".

The North Korean crisis also featured in PM Lee's meetings with President Donald Trump on Monday and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday. It will be high on the agenda when Mr Trump visits Asia from Nov 3.

Defence Secretary James Mattis told journalists after a meeting in the Philippines of defence ministers from ASEAN and its regional partners: "The more we do together today, the greater the chance for enduring peace in the future."

"That is really what it is all about, to keep DPRK efforts firmly in the diplomatic lane for resolution," he said, using the North's official name.

But analysts are worried about bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington. North Korea's leadership sees Mr Trump as provocative, North Korea expert Sue Mi Terry of the Bower Group Asia said last week.

"But they also don't want to invite a reaction from the US," she said at a debate in Washington, warning that while a military option for dealing with North Korea's threats was formerly "unthinkable", there is a different situation now.

"North Korea is near the end of its (nuclear) programme, and we have a different leadership (in America) which is not a little bit unpredictable," she said. "Everybody is nervous for different reasons because they feel they can't count on consistency from Washington."

Ms Jean Lee, a fellow at the Wilson Centre, said the North Korean leadership had to show its people they were strong as well, and may be looking for an opportunity to step back.

"We have had a somewhat predictable pattern of escalation, and we will go into a quiet period, and there will be behind-the-scenes negotiation. But right now, we are not allowing that to happen," she said. "We need to allow a face-saving quiet period."

Terror threat and N. Korea feature in PM Lee-McMaster talks
They also agree on importance of US staying committed to deeper Asia-Pacific engagement
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2017

The threats of terrorism and North Korea's nuclear programme were on the agenda when United States National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday.

"Both sides exchanged views on the threat of terrorism in the region and expressed concern about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's continued development of its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programmes," the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

"They also agreed on the importance of the US' continued commitment towards deepening its engagement of the Asia-Pacific."

Both security issues had featured prominently when PM Lee and President Donald Trump met at the White House a day earlier.

Highlights of Monday's meeting, which Cabinet members from both countries attended, were released by the White House and the PMO in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The leaders affirmed the strong and enduring bilateral partnership based on mutually beneficial cooperation in the areas of defence, security and the economy.

"They both recognised Singapore's steadfast partnership on issues of mutual interest and shared principles," the statement added.

"Singapore has been an anchor for the presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific, underpinning regional peace and prosperity for the common benefit of the region and the United States."

The leaders pledged to strengthen cooperation to counter the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Mr Trump welcomed Singapore's commitment to extend its existing contributions to the global coalition to defeat it - a medical team, a KC-135R tanker and an imagery analysis team. PM Lee had said on Monday that Singapore would extend its deployment into next year.

On North Korea, both leaders condemned its "unlawful" missile launches and nuclear tests, which are in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

They also reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement the resolutions and "consider additional measures to compel the regime to engage in meaningful dialogue".

Pyongyang's provocations have drawn a strong response from Mr Trump, and will be a key theme of his visit to Asia next month.

On economic ties, both leaders said the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement had successfully expanded trade, enhanced prosperity and promoted broader relations for the benefit of both countries.

Beyond close defence ties that include rotational deployments and training, Singapore has also signed more than US$5.8 billion (S$7.9 billion) worth of defence contracts with US companies in the past three years.

Both countries also aim to sign tax agreements on information exchange and compliance this year.

The statement also touched on developments in the South China Sea.

Both sides reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding peace and stability, freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes under international law.

They also reiterated their support for the swift conclusion of an effective and binding Code of Conduct.

Turning to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state and the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, both leaders urged the Myanmar government to end the violence, ensure "the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation, resettlement, and rehabilitation" of those displaced, and implement in the shortest time possible the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

They also expressed their support for ASEAN's role in working with the Myanmar government to provide humanitarian assistance.

Also, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to ASEAN centrality and strengthening the regional architecture to address transnational challenges such as maritime and cyber security, and violent extremism.

The statement added: "President Trump looks forward to attending the November multilateral summits in South-east Asia and offered his full support for Singapore's ASEAN chairmanship in 2018."

PM Lee urges US to sustain economic ties with Asia
Region holds many opportunities for American businesses, he says
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday urged the United States to sustain its economic engagement of Asia, which continues to hold many opportunities for American businesses.

He also highlighted how the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific, which were shaped by decades of such engagement, are vital US national security interests.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, PM Lee noted that a new administration with a radically different approach has not changed the substance of US relations with Asia.

He later called on President Donald Trump at the White House in the afternoon.

PM Lee told American business leaders during the dialogue that US trade with the Asia-Pacific exceeds that with Europe, and US multinationals have major investments in the region.

There are investment and technological gaps American companies can fill, growing middle classes to purchase US products, and great scope for US businesses to grow new markets and create prosperity on both sides of the Pacific, he said.

On the strategic front, the US has major allies in Asia, and US-China ties remain the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And successive US administrations have built up ties with the region and sought to ensure its stability.

America's recent turn inwards, away from multilateralism, has prompted concerns about weakened prospects for growth and stability among many countries, and US business leaders as well.

Yesterday, PM Lee called on the US to still uphold free trade and tackle issues that arise in cooperation with its partners.

America's attitude on these issues is key, and has implications for the entire world, he added.

"Do you still believe that it has the most to gain from an interdependent world, open exchanges and multilateral rules? In particular, how will your relations with China develop?" he asked.

"How America answers these questions will determine not just prosperity, but war and peace - not just in Asia, but the world."

Asia's economies are among the fastest growing and account for two-thirds of global growth today, PM Lee noted. Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Huawei, or Indian firms like Bharti Enterprises, are world-class multinational corporations. The region as a whole is also becoming more integrated and interdependent, he said, citing how ASEAN has formed an economic community that will be the fourth-largest single market by 2030.

And it is pushing ahead on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade pact that brings together the grouping and six key trading partners - including China and India - that together cover half the world's population and a third of its gross domestic product. Meanwhile, India has been making progress opening up. And China, the single most important driver of Asia's prosperity and integration, has been enhancing its interlinkages with the region.

"Asian countries want to benefit from the trade and economic opportunities China offers," PM Lee said, adding that, at the same time, they do not want a world divided into rival blocs.

Having prospered under a global, multilateral system of trade and finance, they have substantial economic links with Europe and the US - and want to maintain and grow these even as they deepen cooperation within Asia, he said.

Economic Club president David Rubenstein later asked PM Lee what was the main message he wanted to convey to Mr Trump.

Asia is important to the US, PM Lee replied, adding: "There is a lot we can do together."

On Sunday, he told 250 Singaporeans at a reception that Singapore's economy is expected to grow by close to 3 per cent this year.

PM Lee Hsien Loong Speech and Dialogue at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

Singapore succeeded by staying open to MNCs: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2017

WASHINGTON • Singapore's decision to allow itself to be "exploited" by multinational companies from its early days of independence played a key role in its economic growth and success, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We decided if by exploiting us they created jobs for us, and they generated markets for us, and they brought technology and organisation... so be it," he said of the decision which went against conventional wisdom for newly independent former colonies in the 1960s.

PM Lee was speaking at a session with American business leaders and foreign diplomats based in Washington hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.

Club president David Rubenstein, chief executive of investment firm The Carlyle Group, had asked him what factors made Singapore succeed economically beyond its size.

The other factor, PM Lee said, was its decision to build a credible armed forces through national service, which showed Singapore could be defended.

"In the process... we also built a nation," he added, noting that conscription brought people from different walks of life together.

PM Lee was also asked about Singapore's stellar performance in international maths and science tests, its experience with gaming companies and whether he could see Singapore reunite with Malaysia.

"We don't often discuss such possibilities," he said of reunification.

"There was a fork in the road 52 years ago, we went one way, they went another," he added. "I think there is no turning back."

PM Lee attributed Singapore's good maths and science scores to its students working very hard and to parents placing a lot of emphasis on education.

On the integrated resorts, he felt they had worked well. While they were still contentious, he said they were comprehensive resorts that helped boost tourism, and measures have been put in place to limit the impact on society.

PM Lee was also asked about his plans to step down some time after the next election. He did not want to stay the full term, he replied, adding that he hoped to not stay on beyond the age of 70 - in 2022.

What about his greatest pleasure in being Prime Minister? asked Mr Rubenstein.

"To feel that you have made some contribution to a country which has been stable, which has been united, and which has been making progress steadily now for more than a decade," PM Lee said. The job gets harder in a way because expectations are higher, he added.

Asked if his children would enter politics, he said it was up to them - but noted they have not shown any interest. "They have to have the right combination of temperament, character and ability," he said.

Singapore economy to grow by nearly 3% this year: PM Lee
He cites Q3 performance in giving upbeat assessment to 250 Singaporeans in Washington
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

Singapore's economy should grow by close to 3 per cent this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday.

He gave his upbeat assessment of the country's growth prospects to more than 250 Singaporeans living in and around Washington at a reception at the Singapore Embassy in the United States.

It comes as advance estimates from the Ministry of Trade and Industry this month put year-on-year growth for the third quarter at 4.6 per cent.

PM Lee noted that this was due to a strong showing by the manufacturing sector, and added that services performed "sort of okay" as well.

The Government had in August revised its growth estimates for this year to between 2 per cent and 3 per cent, and PM Lee said on Sunday: "I expect it will be at the upper end of this because the third-quarter results look good, and I hope that it will continue."

While services are not as strong as they could be and construction has been slow, PM Lee noted that the latter sector could be lifted - "if we need to build more, we can build more".

PM Lee, who is on a six-day visit to the US, also gave an update on Singapore's strong relations with America - ranging from the economy to defence to security, as well as education, culture and the arts.

"These go on, whoever is in the White House and whichever administration is in power or whichever party is in the administration," he said.

"It is also important for us to establish working relationships with the key people in every administration, to get them to know us, to understand them, to appreciate their perspectives, to be able to work together and to take the relationship forward."

Much is at stake in ties with the US, he said, noting that America is a big factor in the region and it was important to know what it is thinking and which way things are going.

It was also important for Singapore to put its point of view across to US business and opinion leaders so they have a feel of what is happening in Asia, he added.

As for Singapore's economy, PM Lee said one difficult aspect is the need to work on improving productivity, especially in services.

"If you have a haircut, you have a haircut. It is very hard for the barber to cut your hair 20 per cent faster than last year," he said. "And yet, we would like barbers to also improve their lives and have better incomes."

"We have to work at it patiently, sector by sector," he added, noting that 23 Industry Transformation Maps are being rolled out to help.

ANZ economist Ng Weiwen said Singapore's economy has largely been driven by a pickup in advanced economies this year, which has fuelled trade activity.

The bank has revised its gross domestic product forecast for the year from 2.6 per cent to 3 per cent after the third-quarter GDP numbers were released.

"The strength in the external sector has surprised us, but it masks the weaknesses in the domestic sector, particularly in the labour and property markets," Mr Ng said.

"Property is showing signs of recovery but if you look at its peak in 2013 compared to now, prices are still 10 per cent lower. The labour market is still subdued - there are still more job seekers than there are job vacancies. So, the external strength hasn't filtered through to the broader economy."

Additional reporting by Yasmine Yahya

Four-Eye Meeting between PM Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump
PM Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump at the Joint Press Conference
PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Working Lunch with US President Donald Trump
Joint Statement by the Republic of Singapore and the United States of America
PM Lee Hsien Loong's Speech and Dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations on 25 October 2017
Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Economic Club of Washington DC on 23 October 2017
PM Lee Hsien Loong interview with Mr David Rubenstein, President of the Economic Club of Washington DC, on 23 October 2017
PM Lee Hsien Loong's interview with CNBC, 19 October 2017

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