WASHINGTON – The friendship between the United States and Singapore has never been stronger, President Donald Trump said on Monday (Oct 23) as he and visiting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reaffirmed the robust and multi-faceted relations between the two countries.
Both leaders held a "four-eye" meeting in the Oval Office on Monday (Oct 23) before a joint appearance at the Rose Garden where they addressed the media. Mr Trump praised Singapore's achievements since gaining independence and said the US was "proud of the deep and enduring partnership" with the Republic.
“Singapore’s rapid development from a poor island nation to an economic powerhouse, under the leadership of the Prime Minister’s great father – he was a great man; he really was a great man – has been one of the incredible economic and political achievements of the past 50 years,” Mr Trump added.
He lauded Singapore's strong commitment to rule of law, citing as examples the Republic’s protection of intellectual property and its adherence to the principles of “fair and reciprocal trade”. This, he added, made the city state a “magnet for business”, with over 4,000 American companies operating in Singapore.
Mr Trump, who has made job creation one of the major goals of his presidency, also spoke glowingly of a US$13.8 billion deal for the Singapore Airlines to buy 39 new commercial jetliners from US plane manufacturer Boeing.
"I want to thank the Singaporean people for their faith in American engineering and workers. Our American workers deliver the best product, by far," said Mr Trump.
The Republic is the second largest Asian investor in the US, with over US$70 billion in stock investments. Total trade in goods and services between both sides amounted to more than US$68 billion every year, with the US consistently running a trade surplus with Singapore. This surplus in favour of the US stood at over US$18 billion in 2016.
Mr Lee noted that on a per capita basis, Singaporeans buy S$7,500 worth of American goods and services yearly, from iPhones, pharmaceutical products, tires, golf clubs, to financial and consultancy services, arguably making them "one of the highest-buying American customers in the world."
At the same time, the US is the top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Singapore, with investment stock worth US$259 billion in 2016. Among Asian countries, Singapore is also the largest recipient of FDI from the US.
But both leaders stressed that the robust bilateral ties went beyond economic interests. "Our two nations share an unwavering commitment to countering the North Korean threat and promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," said Mr Trump.
The US and Singapore also collaborate extensively in areas like security, defence and law enforcement. Mr Trump noted, for instance, that Singapore was the first South-east Asian nation to join the US-led international coalition to defeat the Islamic State (IS).
Singapore has deployed planners, liaison officers, intelligence fusion officers, imagery analysis teams, and Republic of Singapore Air Force KC-135R tanker aircraft to Iraq for use against the IS.
Medical teams from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have also been deployed to Iraq to provide healthcare support to coalition forces contributing to counter IS efforts in Iraq, with the SAF medical teams working closely alongside teams from the Australian Defence Force and the New Zealand Force.
Mr Lee announced at the White House that the Republic will extend its existing deployment to 2018 for an additional year.
During the joint press conference, Mr Trump also thanked Mr Lee for the SAF's assistance in two recent operations - the deployment of four Republic of Singapore Air Force 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 Aug 21. The collision in Singapore's territorial waters killed 10 US navy sailors.
“The US-Singapore relationship has made both of our people far more prosperous and secure, and our values have made us longstanding friends,” said Mr Trump, who has accepted Mr Lee's invitation to visit Singapore next year.
“We are fortunate to have such a wonderful and loyal partner. Thank you very much.”
Aside from his meeting with Mr Trump, Mr Lee also delivered a speech at the Economic Club of Washington DC, and met with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday. In the meeting, Mr Lee and Mr Mnuchin reaffirmed bilateral economic ties, as well as the importance of continued US economic engagement of the Asia-Pacific, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.