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Ukraine conflict has implications for Asia Pacific; nations need to maintain dialogue at highest level: PM Lee

WASHINGTON, DC — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has arrived at the White House on Tuesday (March 29) for his meeting with United States President Joe Biden, with the Ukraine situation, US engagement in Asia Pacific and new areas of bilateral cooperation on the agenda. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) meets US President Joe Biden (right) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US on March 29, 2022.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) meets US President Joe Biden (right) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US on March 29, 2022.

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine situation and the US engagement in the Asia Pacific region, as well as new areas of bilateral cooperation. 

  • The Ukraine issue has implications on the Asia Pacific, since potential flashpoints in the region could also escalate if managed poorly, said Mr Lee

  • This was the first time they met in the US since Mr Biden won the 2020 US presidential elections

  • At a press conference following their meeting, Mr Biden said Western leaders are sceptical of Russia's move to deescalate the conflict around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv

  • The Singapore delegation also met US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday

WASHINGTON, DC —  The Ukraine conflict has implications for the Asia Pacific because there are “potential flashpoints and contentious issues” in the region which, if poorly managed, could escalate to open conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (March 29). 

“Countries with interest in the region need to pursue all efforts to settle disagreements through peaceful means, so that we can avoid making a point of no return,” he said at a joint press conference with United States President Joe Biden in Washington, DC following a meeting between the two leaders.

Stressing the importance of maintaining dialogue between nations, including at the highest level, PM Lee said that these open channels will help avoid conflict between countries and prevent any misreading of intentions.

During the hour-long meeting between PM Lee and Mr Biden in the White House, both sides discussed US’ engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, its commitment to regional allies and partners, as well as new areas of regional and bilateral cooperation.

The Ukraine-Russia conflict, as well as other global security challenges — North Korea’s recent missile launches and the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar — were also on the agenda. 

At the press conference following the meeting, PM Lee reiterated that Singapore is a strong supporter of international law and the United Nations (UN) Charter, which prohibits acts of aggression against a sovereign state, and it has voted in accordance with these principles in the UN through successive crises over the years.

Mr Lee said that this was why Singapore “strongly condemned the unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukrainian sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity”.

“The unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext is unacceptable. We cannot condone any country that argues that another country's independence is the result of ‘historical error and crazy distinctions’.”

Speaking at the joint press conference, Mr Biden said that Russia's “brutal and unjustifiable” war against Ukraine is an attack on the core of national principles that underpin peace and security and prosperity everywhere, including in the Indo Pacific.

“Today, Singapore and the US are united in sending the message to all nations, that regardless of size or population, they are equal in their rights on the global stage, have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity and to determine their own future free from violence and intimidation,” he said.

Mr Biden, who earlier thanked Singapore for its principled stance on the matter and acknowledged that its sanctions against Russia have not been easy, described Singapore as punching "way above your weight".

The meeting between the two leaders follows news of Russian forces promising to scale down its operations around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, as both sides appear to be closer to a peace deal. 

Asked about this, Mr Biden said that it remains to be seen whether Russia will “follow through” on its promise to de-escalate the conflict.

He added that he had been in a call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, and there was a consensus of seeing what Russia has to offer.

“We’ll find out what they do,” Mr Biden said. “But in the meantime, we’re going to continue to keep strong the sanctions, we’re going to continue to provide the Ukrainian military with the capacity to defend themselves, and we’re going to continue to keep a close eye on what’s going on.”

The meeting between PM Lee and Mr Biden was the first in the US since Mr Biden won the 2020 US presidential elections. Both leaders met previously in October last year on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome.

It was also the first time that Mr Biden is meeting an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leader at the US capital as the president.

A US-Asean summit that was previously scheduled to take place on March 28 and 29 in Cambodia — the Asean chair in 2022 — was postponed because some leaders were unable to make it.

On Tuesday, the Singapore delegation also met US Vice-President Kamala Harris at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, where the Ukraine issue was also discussed. Ms Harris last met PM Lee in Singapore during an official visit in August last year.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Ms Harris said that both the US and Singapore shared the same concerns over Russian aggression, while PM Lee reiterated that they shared the same commitment to a stable rules-based global order. 

Ms Harris added: “The bigger issue is not only about what we must do to maintain and fight for the United States and European security.

“But (it is also about) what we must do, as a matter of principle and priority, for our nation in standing up to the importance of international rules and norms as it relates to sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Related topics

Lee Hsien Loong Joe Biden Ukraine Russia ASEAN USA Politics

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