President Barack Obama shakes hands with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (AP Photo)

Five Things You Should Know Ahead of Singapore Prime Minister Lee’s Visit

By Daniel R. Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife touched down in Washington, D.C. on Sunday morning for their first State visit to the United States, the 13th of President Obama’s tenure.

Watch as President Obama welcomes Prime Minister Lee of Singapore to the White House for an official visit

A State Visit is one way we show how much America values our relationship with this beacon of prosperity and good governance at the heart of Southeast Asia.

This honor was also bestowed twice on Prime Minister Lee’s parents, most recently in 1985 when U.S. President Ronald Reagan hosted then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Our meetings will be capped off by an elegant State dinner hosted by President Obama and the First Lady, during which the two leaders will reaffirm our ties and friendship and mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

The menu for tomorrow’s Singapore State Dinner includes Maryland blue crab, American Wagyu beef, and yellow peaches. The yellow theme represents our harmonious friendship. [AP Photos]

Here’s a sneak peek at what the President and Prime Minister will discuss:

1. Singapore plays a vital role in the Asia rebalance

Our two leaders will celebrate the close and longstanding relationship between the United States and Singapore. As President Obama highlighted in his interview with the Straits Times yesterday, “With Singapore’s partnership, the United States is engaging more deeply across Southeast Asia and ASEAN, which is central to the region’s peace and prosperity.”

Singapore is one of our closest partners in ASEAN. Secretary Kerry worked closely with Foreign Minister Balakrishnan last week at the ASEAN meetings in Laos. It is also one of our strongest security and defense partners in Asia. In December last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen signed an enhanced defense cooperation agreement, or EDCA, providing a new framework for an expanded defense relationship between our two nations, including deployments to Singapore on a rotational basis. As President Obama stated yesterday, “Both our nations are committed to building a regional order where all nations play by the same rules and disputes are resolved peacefully, and this visit will be an opportunity to continue deepening our cooperation on behalf of regional stability and prosperity.”

2. Singapore is a strong advocate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Singapore was one of the original group of four countries (P4) that promoted the trade agreement that became the TPP, which was signed by our two nations and ten others in February. Ratification of the TPP is one of the key priorities for the Obama administration in 2016. It will help build on the strong trade relationship between the United States and Singapore, trade which has already grown over 50 percent since the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), our first FTA in Asia, was implemented in 2004. Prime Minister Lee has also championed the economic and strategic benefits of the Agreement and continually expressed his support for TPP ratification in the United States.

With the TPP, our two nations together with the 10 other participating countries will lead the way toward greater growth and prosperity across the Asia-Pacific. The agreement will lower tariffs across Asia, create opportunities for exporters of all sectors and sizes, give consumers more choices, and promote new, higher standards in important areas such as labor, the environment, transparency, innovation, and good governance. President Obama remarked, “We’re committed to sustaining the dynamism of our economies with the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the highest-standard trade agreement ever — which will support trade and innovation in both our countries.”

3. Singapore shares our priorities in addressing climate change

Prime Minister Lee’s visit provides an opportunity for a discussion of shared priorities on addressing the threat of global climate change. As a coastal city, Singapore is acutely concerned about the potential effects of climate change and has set up a Secretariat in the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate its domestic and international efforts. Bilateral meetings at the White House and State Department on Tuesday will include discussions on the timely entry-into-force and implementation of the Paris Agreement, action to address greenhouse gas emissions and progress toward meeting Nationally Determined Contributions, efforts to scale up mobilized climate finance, and work to improve adaptation and climate resilience.

President Barack Obama listens during a bilateral meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, while attending the APEC Summit in Singapore, November 15, 2009. [White House Photo]

4. Singapore is our partner in countering violent extremism (CVE)

Singapore was the very first Southeast Asian nation to join the global coalition against ISIL. This State visit will help sustain our momentum in destroying that terrorist organization. We have seen Singapore step up as a regional leader on countering violent extremism when it publicly joined the U.S.-led anti-ISIL Coalition in November 2014, the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. We appreciate Singapore’s contribution of planning staff and air refueling assets to the Coalition, its strong statements against ISIL, and its support for UNSCRs 2170 and 2178.

5. Singapore is a strategic tech and innovation hub

Over 3,700 U.S. companies have offices in Singapore, many of which are regional headquarters. Singapore ranked #1 in the World Bank’s ease of doing business report in 2015, which helps explain its business friendly environment. In 2012, the United States and Singapore established a Third Country Training Program (TCTP), which has quickly emerged as one of Singapore’s most active programs, especially after it was updated in August 2015 during Secretary Kerry’s visit. Under the TCTP, our countries have drawn on the expertise of our respective public sectors to develop innovative capacity building courses and programs to assist developing countries in addressing common challenges collaboratively. Together we have already organized 20 courses and trained over 550 ASEAN member government officials.


This entry originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.