Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s first official visit to the White House, since President of the United States of America (POTUS) Donald Trump took office, appears to have been a resounding success.
The two world leaders first met face-to-face in July this year at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
President Trump and PM Lee reaffirmed the relationship between the US and Singapore as they met again yesterday. The leaders first exchanged pleasantries in front of the media, where the POTUS claimed that the US-Singapore relationship has “never been closer than now” and “won’t ever be stronger”:
"The relationship that we've had over the years has been very good but it's never been closer than now": President Donald J. Trump, ahead of his meeting with PM Lee Hsien Loong.(Video: AP)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Monday, 23 October 2017
President Trump: Well, thank you very much. We have Prime Minister Lee, a highly respected man. Singapore doing well. Continues to do well. You never even see a downturn in Singapore, I’ll say. I guess you don’t agree with that but I’ll say looking from the outside, you never see a downturn. I just want to congratulate you on having done a fantastic job. The relationship that we’ve had over the years has been very good but it has never been closer than now and we’ll be spending a lot of time. One of the things we’ll be doing in a short period of time is signing together a very large contract where Singapore is buying billions of dollars worth of airplanes from Boeing, that will be made in our country. So, that’s jobs, and you’re also buying the best planes, by the way, so that’s just very good. So, I just want to thank Prime Minister Lee. Thank you very much.
PM Lee: Well, thank you very much. Very happy to be here with you and to be here at a time when our relations are prospering and we look forward to taking them forward, deepening them and strengthening them for many years to come and starting with this administration.
President Trump: That’s very good. And I think it won’t ever be stronger.
PM Lee: Thank you.
President Trump: And I’ll be going over that part of the world in two weeks and stopping in numerous countries, including Japan, South Korea, China. We’ll be stopping in Vietnam, and probably the Philippines also. So, it’ll be a very busy 10 or 11 days.
PM Lee: A very important trip. We look forward to meeting you and hearing your message.
President Trump: Very good.
The world leaders subsequently observed a contract signing between Singapore Airlines and Boeing over a US$13.8 billion deal for the purchase of 39 aircrafts.
President Trump later said during a joint appearance with PM Lee in the Rose Garden:
“Singapore’s strong commitment to the rule of law, to [intellectual] property protections, and to the principles of fair and reciprocal – one of my favourite words when it comes to trade – has made the country a magnet for business.
“Today, over 4,000 American companies are operating in Singapore, and we have a very large trading relationship with Singapore.
“Singapore is one of our closest strategic partners in Asia. The U.S. is proud of the deep and enduring partnership we have built.
Held a Joint Press Conference with President Donald J. Trump this afternoon in the White House’s Rose Garden. Singapore and the US are partners in many areas, but above all we are warm friends, as we have been for 51 years. I expressed my hope that the US will continue engaging the Asia Pacific, and extended an invitation to President Trump to visit us, which he has accepted. Long may our friendship continue! ???????? ???????? – LHL(PMO Video by Alex Qiu and Chiez How)
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, 23 October 2017
Besides the Singapore Airlines-Boeing deal and the 4000 American companies that are presently operating in Singapore, the strategic partnership between the two nations can be evidenced by the following:
Singapore is the second-largest Asian investor in the US, having invested more than US$70 billion in stock investments;
Over US$68 billion was spent in total good and services trade between the nations last year;
The U.S.’s trade surplus with Singapore presently stands at US$18 billion;
Singaporeans could be among the highest per-capita buying American customers in the world, with each resident spending an average of US$7,500 on products and services from the US;
Singapore has hosted US Defense airforce and navy personnel on rotational detachment for many years, while the US has hosts 1000 Singaporean personnel every year;
Singapore joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shaam (ISIS) – it was the first ASEAN nation to do so;
Singapore assisted in Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts in August this year by deploying four Chinooks to support the transport of personnel and critical resources during the crisis; and
Singapore assisted the US when the USS John McCain collided with a merchant vessel in Singapore waters.
Besides these and besides sharing other common values, both nations remain committed to counter the rising threat of North Korea. The POTUS highlighted the security relationship between the two nations and the challenges posed by the increasingly aggressive North Korea, during the joint appearance as well:
“Throughout Southeast Asia, the United States and Singapore are currently working to enhance the capacity of law enforcement, fight terrorism, and bolster cyber defenses,” Trump said. “Our two nations share an unwavering commitment to countering the North Korean threat and promoting freedom of navigation on the South China Sea.”
With regards to the threat of North Korea, PM Lee urged the POTUS to speak with other nations to help resolve the crisis over North Korea’s rapid nuclearisation:
“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.”
PM Lee also encouraged President Trump to build a good relationship with China, noting that nations in the Asian region “watch your relations with China very closely,” viewing it as “the most important bilateral relationship in the world.”
Following his meeting with the President, PM Lee announced that the POTUS will be visiting Singapore, in a Facebook post:
“Held a Joint Press Conference with President Donald J. Trump this afternoon in the White House’s Rose Garden. Singapore and the U.S. are partners in many areas, but above all we are warm friends, as we have been for 51 years. I expressed my hope that the U.S. will continue engaging the Asia Pacific, and extended an invitation to President Trump to visit us, which he has accepted. Long may our friendship continue!”
The POTUS will be visiting Singapore “at his earliest opportunity,” most likely in 2018. PM Lee will be meeting the President even before that, when they will meet again twice next month — at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam and the ASEAN summit and 40th anniversary celebrations of U.S.-ASEAN relations in the Philippines.
Both of those events will be held during the POTUS’ 12-day, five-country Asia tour, which will focus heavily on North Korea’s rapid nuclearisation and trade practices in the region.
The POTUS will not visit Singapore during the Asia tour next month. Besides Vietnam and the Phillipines, he will be visiting Japan, South Korea, and China where he is expected to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to rein in North Korea.
The meeting is to occur after the POTUS criticised the country for not taking more action on the issue and after Chinese diplomats have asserted that the US and its allies should not depend so much on China to ease tensions created by North Korea.