Singapore

PM Lee urges US to maintain strong links in Asia

World is better off when America upholds free trade and cooperates with its partners, says Mr Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday urged the United States to sustain its economic engagement of Asia, which continues to hold many opportunities for American businesses.

He also highlighted how the peace and stability of Asia-Pacific, shaped by decades of such engagement, is a vital US national security interest.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, DC, Mr Lee noted that a new administration with a radically different approach has not turned the substance of US relations with Asia upside down.

Mr Lee later called on US President Donald Trump at the White House.

He told American business leaders during the dialogue that US trade with Asia-Pacific exceeds that with Europe, and US multinationals have major investments in the region.

There are investment and technological gaps American companies can fill, growing middle classes to purchase US products and great scope for US businesses to grow new markets and create prosperity on both sides of the Pacific, he said.

On the strategic front, the US has major allies in Asia and US-China ties remain the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

America's recent turn inwards, away from multilateralism, has prompted concerns about weakened prospects for growth and stability among many countries and US business leaders.

Yesterday, Mr Lee called on the US to still uphold free trade and tackle issues that arise in cooperation with its partners. America's attitude on these issues is key and has implications for the entire world, he added.

He asked: "Do you still believe that it has the most to gain from an inter-dependent world, open exchanges and multilateral rules? In particular, how will your relations with China develop?

"How America answers these questions will determine not just prosperity but war and peace - not just in Asia, but the world."

Asia's economies are among the fastest growing and account for two-thirds of global growth today, Mr Lee noted.

Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Huawei or Indian companies such as Bharti Enterprises, are world-class multinational corporations.

The region as a whole is also becoming more integrated and inter-dependent, he said, citing how Asean has formed an economic community that will be the fourth largest single market by 2030.

And it is pushing ahead on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade pact that brings together the grouping and six key trading partners - including China and India - that all together cover half the world's population and a third of its gross domestic product.

Economic Club president David Rubenstein later asked Mr Lee what was the main message he wanted to convey to Mr Trump.

Asia is important to the US, PM Lee replied, adding: "There is a lot we can do together."

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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