PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Welcome Ceremony at the White House

2 August 2016

 

President Barack Obama and Mrs Michelle Obama, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Americans and Singaporeans who are here today, thank you very much for this very kind invitation. I know it is a busy year. I watched you on television last week, and Michelle, too. It is an honour for Singapore to be received with such a warm welcome, especially as we celebrate 50 years of our diplomatic relations. 

The first official visit by a Singapore Prime Minister to the United States was in 1967. President Lyndon Johnson received Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister. 

Singapore was then newly independent. We were struggling to build a modern economy with no means to defend ourselves in a turbulent Southeast Asia. But Mr Lee did not come to seek military or economic aid. At that time, America was divided over the Vietnam War. He came to take the measure of America’s moods and intentions. He explained to his American friends why Asia mattered to America, and why the United States’ active engagement was important to millions of people living in Southeast Asia. America’s presence helped to contain the spread of Communism, and gave non-Communist Southeast Asian countries the crucial security, time, and space to consolidate and to prosper.

Almost 50 years later, the world has completely changed. The Cold War is long over, and the threat of Communism has disappeared. Asia is at peace, though tensions are not entirely absent.  Southeast Asia has prospered, with countries cooperating peacefully as members of ASEAN. 

America’s endurance, policies and actions have contributed greatly to this current peace and prosperity. Keeping your markets open to trade, deepening your partnership with ASEAN, and cooperating with countries in the region to enhance regional security, you have helped create the basis for a peaceful, rules-based regional and international order.

President Obama, the US rebalance to Asia is an important affirmation of a longstanding policy of the United States, and has been warmly welcomed by all ASEAN countries. Your efforts to build a constructive relationship with China will set the strategic backdrop for the whole region and beyond. You have personally pushed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), growing a small FTA that Singapore started, together with Chile, Brunei and New Zealand, into what will be a major trading group linking both sides of the Pacific.

I know that America has many preoccupations both at home and abroad. Some Americans are anxious and frustrated with economic uncertainty and the uneven results of globalisation, trade and foreign engagement. But the US has many interests, investments and friends in the region. These strengthen the United States. 

Singapore fervently hopes that the US will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia Pacific. In particular, we hope – and I am sure the President shares this hope – that Congress will ratify the TPP 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.

Singapore’s own ties with the United States have remained steadfast through nine US Presidents – five Republican and four Democratic, and three Singapore Prime Ministers. We will maintain these bipartisan links with whichever party wins the elections in November. We will continue to build and to deepen our economic and security relationships. We are partners in tackling the scourge of ISIS and other forms of violent extremism. Our armed forces take parts in exercises together, and interact regularly.

On this visit, President Obama and I will discuss expanding our already extensive cooperation to new areas, including cybersecurity and smart cities. But our ties reach beyond the government offices and corporate boardrooms to the hearts and minds of our people. 

Thousands of Singapore students and people study and work in America, and thousands of US companies operate out of Singapore. The largest American curriculum school outside the US in the world is in Singapore. It is the Singapore-American school. There are some alumni here, obviously.  

In my many visits to America, I meet Singaporeans living in many different states, contributing in their own ways to their host country and their respective communities. I also meet Americans who have been to Singapore and tell me about their Singaporean friends and their favourite hawker food. I think many of them have met rojak too. 

So I am very grateful for this opportunity to renew our partnership on this 50th anniversary milestone. I look forward to having many more occasions and reasons to celebrate this special relationship together.

Thank you, President Obama.