US, Singapore honour five decades of ties

US President Barack Obama welcomed Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday morning for an official state visit in a pomp-filled ceremony on the White House's South Lawn.

Acknowledging that the Washington humidity was "Singapore weather," Obama noted that Lee's visit marked 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations, and 30 years since the last state visit by a Singapore leader.

"As the United States has rebalanced our foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific, Singapore and Prime Minister Lee in particular had been solid rock partners," Obama said.

"We stand together for a regional order where every nation, large and small, plays and trades by the same rules and we stand together to meet the threats of the 21st century from terrorism to the spread of disease to climate change," the US president said.

Lee made note that Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew was the first prime minister to officially visit Washington at the invitation of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1967.

He said that the US-Singapore relationship had remained steadfast over nine US administrations and said that Singapore "fervently" hoped the US would "stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role"in the Asia-Pacific region.

"In particular, we hope, and I'm sure the president shares this hope,that Congress will ratify the (Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) soon. Not only will the TPP benefit American workers and businesses, it will send a clear signal and a vital signal that America will continue to lead in the Asia-Pacific and enhance the partnerships that link our destinies together."

President Obama welcomed Singapore's prime minister visit with a major trade deal and China's development of islands in the South China Sea at the top of their agenda.

Both the United States and Singapore are signatories to the 12 nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Obama hopes Congress will approve before he leaves office in January.

Lee said TPP would be a major trading group linking both sides of the Pacific. "Not only will the TPP benefit American workers and businesses, it will send a clear signal and a vital signal that America will continue to lead in the Asia Pacific and enhance the partnerships that link our destinies together," he said.

The TPP faces a battle in Congress. Some US voters blame trade deals for shutting factories, shipping jobs overseas and favouring corporations over the environment. The deal also is opposed by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican.

Obama believes the TPP will fix problems in a previous trade deal, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, and will create jobs by allowing people around the world to buy US products. The TPP aims to liberalise commerce in 40 per cent of the world's economy and would be a check against China's influence in Asia.

Also on the agenda during Lee's visit will be China's build up of islands in the South China Sea. China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which trillions of dollars worth of shipping trade passes annually and has been fortifying islands in the sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims there.

China has accused the United States of fueling tensions in the region with patrols and exercises.

Singapore is not a claimant to the South China Sea, but the tiny city-state has the largest defence budget in Southeast Asia at a time when nations are stepping up their military spending in response to China's assertiveness in the region.

Source: Oman Observer

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