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S’pore and US to deepen cooperation on multiple fronts as leaders reaffirm mutually beneficial ties

WASHINGTON — Singapore and the United States have reaffirmed their robust and multi-faceted ties, pledging to deepen economic, defence, counter-terrorism cooperation and people-to-people linkages.

President Donald Trump, left, and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien, right depart together following a joint statement in the Rose Garden at the White House. Photo: AP

President Donald Trump, left, and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien, right depart together following a joint statement in the Rose Garden at the White House. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON — Singapore and the United States have reaffirmed their robust and multi-faceted ties, pledging to deepen economic, defence, counter-terrorism cooperation and people-to-people linkages.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday (Oct 24) following talks between visiting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Donald Trump in the White House, both countries noted that Singapore has been an anchor for the US’ presence in the Indo-Pacific, and a steadfast partner on issues of common interest.

Mr Trump also "warmly welcomed" an invitation from Mr Lee to visit Singapore next year.

"(Both leaders) affirmed the strong and enduring partnership between the two countries based on mutually beneficial cooperation, especially in the economic, defence, security, and people-to-people spheres," according to the joint statement.

"They both recognised Singapore’s steadfast partnership on issues of mutual interest and shared principles. Singapore has been an anchor for the United States’ presence in the Indo-Pacific, underpinning regional peace and prosperity for the common benefit of the region and the United States."

Speaking to the media alongside Mr Trump at the White House Rose Garden after their meeting on Monday, Mr Lee noted Singapore's “sizeable” investments and trade with the US despite being a small country of 5.5 million people.

The Republic is the second largest Asian investor in the US, with over US$70 billion (S$95 billion) in stock investments.

The US is the top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Singapore, with investment stock worth US$259 billion in 2016. Many American companies use the Republic as a regional hub or springboard into Asian markets.

Mr Trump said that ties with Singapore have never been stronger and lauded the Republic’s commitment to the rule of law.

Mr Lee and Mr Trump noted that the bilateral US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which came to force in 2004, has played an important role in strengthening economic ties between both countries, adding that it would be "reviewed regularly to evaluate performance and resolve bilateral issues", said the joint statement.

It said both countries have also "substantially completed" negotiations on two tax agreements - one on the exchange of tax information, and the other with regards to a reciprocal inter-governmental agreement to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Both countries aim to sign the agreements by the end of the year, the statement added.

On Monday, the two leaders witnessed the signing of a deal worth close to US$14 billion between Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Boeing for the national carrier to purchase 39 new aircraft. The deal will create jobs for some 70,000 Americans. 

“(This would) further modernise SIA’s fleet, and support American jobs,” said Mr Lee.

During their wide-ranging talks, Mr Lee and Mr Trump reaffirmed long-standing Singapore-US defence ties "as a cornerstone of bilateral relations".

Singapore hosts US military aircraft and ships on rotational deployment to the region for a range of missions, while some 1,000 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel train annually in states like Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Oklahoma.

The bilateral joint statement noted that Singapore has signed more than US$5.8 billion worth of defence contracts with US companies in the past three years, with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) recently receiving delivery of several new F-15SG fighter jets from Boeing.

Mr Trump also thanked Mr Lee for the SAF's assistance in two recent operations - the deployment of four RSAF Chinook helicopters to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief operations in Texas, and the extensive search-and-rescue operations launched by Singapore following the collision between the USS John S McCain and a tanker on August 21. The collision in Singapore's territorial waters killed 10 US Navy sailors.

On the security front, both countries pledged to step up cooperation against global terrorism and cyber threats. Singapore is the first and only Asian country to have contributed both military assets and personnel on the ground to the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, and intends to extend its existing deployment to 2018 for an additional year.

"President Trump welcomed Singapore’s commitment to extend its existing contributions to the coalition, including the deployment of a medical task force in Camp Taji, Iraq, KC-135R tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling, and an imagery analysis team," said the joint statement.

Affirming the strong people-to-people links between nationals of both countries, the two leaders welcomed the continuation of the US-Singapore Summer Exchange Scholarship, which was first announced during Mr Lee's official visit to the US in August last year. The first recipients of the scholarship embarked on the exchange in May this year.

Turning to issues on the international front, the joint statement said both leaders "noted concerns about developments in the South China Sea (SCS)" territorial dispute. China claims most of the disputed waterway, where it has reclaimed islands and built military installations on them, despite overlapping claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

"(Mr Trump and Mr Lee) reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding peace and stability, and they reiterated their commitment to upholding freedoms of navigation and overflight, and other lawful uses of the sea,” the statement said, adding that both leaders underscored the importance of the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“They also reiterated their support for the expeditious conclusion of an effective and binding Code of Conduct in the SCS."

On the Rohingya crisis, both leaders called for the expeditious delivery of humanitarian assistance to all affected communities and urged the Myanmar government to end the violence as well as to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation, resettlement, and rehabilitation of displaced persons.

They also called for the implementation in the shortest time possible the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by former United Nations Secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Some 400,000 Muslim minority Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since ethnic and religious violence broke out in Myanmar's western Rakhine state on August 25.

On the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis, both leaders condemned Pyongyang's recent series of provocations, which included nuclear tests and missile launches. They reaffirmed their commitment towards implementing UN sanctions against the North, and to "consider additional measures to compel (the North) to engage in meaningful dialogue about a different future."

According to the statement, Mr Trump offered his "full support" for Singapore's chairmanship of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) next year.

"The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to Asean Centrality and the importance of strengthening the regional architecture to effectively address common transnational challenges such as maritime security, cybersecurity, and countering violent extremism," the statement added.

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