Remarks by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with President Obama at the White House on 2 August 2016. PM Lee was on an official visit to the United States from 31 July to 5 August 2016.
President Obama, distinguished guests, I am very happy to be here on an official visit for the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. I would like to thank President Obama for his gracious hospitality and for his attention to our bilateral relations, as well as to the wider Asia Pacific, and specifically also for his good wishes on the condition of our former president, Mr S R Nathan.
The President and I had a substantive conversation on a wide range of issues. We affirmed our strong multi-faceted and longstanding partnership. Our strong economic ties are underpinned by the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Singapore is America’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, where the US is Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor. And many American companies run their regional headquarters in Singapore, and there are also many Singapore companies which are in America. And the relationship deepens year by year.
In the defence area, we have robust cooperation under the ambit of the Memorandum of Understanding U in 1990, and the Strategic Framework Agreement, which we concluded in 2005. Last year, we concluded the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, which expands cooperation into new areas, like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defence, and counterterrorism. We are also deepening security cooperation between our agencies in areas like counterterrorism, cybercrime, corruption, transportation security, and illicit trade enforcement, and expanding into new areas like cybersecurity, where our agencies are signing an MOU to work together to protect national security and our economic interests against cyberattacks.
We also share an interest in Smart Cities, so we have discussed how cities can use technology to tackle problems from health care to transportation to delivery of public services. And there is a lot of interest from companies on both sides.
Underpinning the ties between the two countries are the friendships and the relationships between our peoples. Thousands of American students are studying and working in Singapore. Thousands of Singaporeans are studying and working in America. Last Sunday, I hosted a National Day reception for Singaporeans in our embassy here, and 500 people showed up. It is fitting to mark this special occasion of our 50th anniversary that we are launching a scholarship for Singaporeans and Americans, to enable undergraduates to do some exchanges in each other’s country and draw our young people closer together, and to get to know each other’s societies, cultures, strengths, and opportunities to cooperate together.
We have recently implemented a Trusted Traveller programme that will also facilitate travel by Singaporeans to the US.
The President and I also discussed the TPP. Just now you heard the President give an eloquent explanation of why it is important to America and also to Asia. It is an integral component of America’s rebalance to Asia. Apart from the economic benefits – trade, market access, standard setting, it is also vital from a strategic point of view and a strong signal of the US commitment to continue its deep engagement in the region.
We greatly appreciate the efforts of the President and his team to push for the TPP, which grew from a small FTA, which Singapore had started together with Chile, Brunei and New Zealand, the P4 Group, and now the TPP will be a free trade agreement encompassing 40 percent of the world's population and one-third of the world's GDP. We are near the finish line, and we hope that the countries, particularly the US, will be able to ratify the TPP as soon as possible.
Finally, the President and I discussed our partnership in tackling global challenges, like counterterrorism. It is a problem for all countries. Every day in the newspapers you read of new attacks somewhere – America, Europe, the Middle East, closer to home in Indonesia and Malaysia. We in Southeast Asia, are very concerned about this because the terrorists are active in many countries in the region. Several hundred, perhaps a thousand, from Southeast Asia are in the Middle East fighting ISIS. And we have witnessed attacks in both Indonesia and Malaysia that were mounted by ISIS followers under orders from ISIS operatives in the Middle East to launch attacks in their home countries.
So the efforts to counter ISIL, or ISIS, are crucial. And that is why Singapore is a member of the coalition. We are making a modest contribution to the effort, and we are going to be sending a medical team to Iraq. We have already been participating with air-to-air refuelling, image interpretation, and in other ways. And now we are going to send a medical team into Iraq.
It is also important to fundamentally address a root source of violent extremism in order to counter the underlying ideology of ISIL, as well as to address the issues of extremist and exclusive views being propagated by ISIL.
So these are major issues which we have discussed amongst our two countries, and we look forward to working together and taking our relationship even further forward.
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