The Brookings Institution has launched a new academic position named after former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, as the Washington-based think-tank seeks to raise awareness of South-east Asian issues in the United States capital.
The wraps were taken off the "Lee Kuan Yew chair in South-east Asia Studies" on Friday night in a ceremony at the Fullerton Hotel.
The position, funded with an initial US$3 million (S$3.7 million), will be rotated among academics chosen from the different ASEAN countries, starting with Singapore. The plan is for each academic to have a two-year tenure.
The scholar will conduct research on South-east Asia out of Washington and also give talks and workshops to US lawmakers and their staff.
Speaking at the launch, Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said Brookings, through this chair, could play an influential role in helping formulate US policy in Asia.
"What you really don't want is a questioning of American intention, question of whether it is involved in the region or whether it is capable of being involved in the region due to domestic issues," he said.
It was a point reiterated by former Singapore ambassador to the US Chan Heng Chee. "We need to keep South- east Asia on the minds of American policymakers. When they think of Asia now, they think of North-east Asia. Nowadays, it's more focused on China so we need to get more mindshare," she said.
Ambassador Chan said on Friday was the first time anything in the US has been named after Mr Lee, even though the former PM is considered by Americans to be a great friend and an advocate of US presence in the region.