Toast Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the White House State Dinner

2 August 2016

Mr President, Mrs Obama, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank President Obama for his very kind words. Ho Ching and I are delighted to be here, and we are touched by your warm welcome and gracious hospitality. We especially appreciate Mrs Obama's personal efforts to make our visit a successful one, and for personally overseeing the splendid arrangements for the State Dinner.

Mr President, when you addressed the UN in 2014, you said that, "When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress."  And I am glad to say that tonight, on the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, our two countries share much common ground and have made great progress together based on shared principles, convergent interests, and mutual respect.

I remember my first meeting with you at the Senate. It was May 2007. You were in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign, and not yet the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But I was struck by your focus, your informed interest in Asia, and your desire to cement America's role in it. 

Your years growing up in Indonesia gave you direct experience of Southeast Asia's cultures and challenges. As President, your personal leadership and decision to rebalance to Asia has won America new friends and strengthened old partnerships, including with Singapore. Over half a century working together on multiple issues, Singaporeans and Americans have made many enduring and close personal friendships. So I am happy to see many of Singapore's old friends here tonight, such as Ambassador Steve Green, who you may not know, played a crucial role in teeing up a certain midnight golf game between a lame duck President, Bill Clinton, and our Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, on a rainy night in Brunei during an APEC meeting, which led to the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Which shows what can be done even during lame duck periods. 

Singapore admires America's dynamism, vibrancy, and capacity for self-renewal. These qualities attract the best and brightest from around the world. Thousands of Singaporeans studying in the US, attracted not just by the excellent academic education, but also the unique dynamism of your campuses and the ethos of your society.

This is something that Singapore hopes to emulate as we seek to tap into this spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The National University of Singapore has set up overseas colleges in Silicon Valley and New York, so that our students from Singapore can intern with high-tech start-ups. And we are also launching a US-Singapore 50th anniversary scholarship to promote greater exchanges and understanding between our young people. 

America excels not just through sheer individual talent, but by working together with others. At this year's International Mathematics Olympiad, the US team came in top, beating Singapore. And you did so in a remarkable, open and collaborative manner. You invited students from other competing countries to the US to train with you, including two Singaporeans who benefitted from the exposure.  It is what globalisation means – you compete, but you also cooperate and learn from one another. 

In sport, too, some of Singapore's Olympic hopefuls have come to train with America's best athletes.  One of our swimmers, Joseph Schooling, is a member of the University of Texas swim team, and was a 2016 NCAA champion in the 100 metres and 200 metres butterfly. And we hope he will do well in Rio.

Our armed forces personnel have taken part together in international operations in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. They also train alongside each other on professional courses and joint exercises. I, myself, as a soldier, attending US courses, have personally experienced the dedication, the competence, and the warmth of our hosts. I made good friends, and we still keep in touch after many decades. And they include Frank and Mary McGurk, who were my military sponsors at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas nearly 40 years ago. And they are here tonight. 

America is a great nation, not just because of your power and your wealth, but because of your high ideals, openness, and generosity of spirit. You seek to build a world where countries can prosper together. You make common cause with others to fight the problems which plague mankind, be it extremist terrorism, poverty, Ebola, or climate change. That is why 70 years after the Second World War, America is still a welcomed power in Asia. We hope these strengths and qualities will be emulated by others and will enable you to remain engaged in our region for many more years.

To mark the 50th anniversary of our relations, Singapore has named an orchid hybrid in honour of President and Mrs Obama. And this is a hybrid of breeds native to Singapore and Hawaii, where the President was born – most of us believe. We think it is a fitting tribute to America's first Pacific President and a beautiful symbol of the flourishing ties between our countries. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the health and success of the President of the United States. 

To the President. 

Thank you very much. 

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