US presence 'crucial for Asian growth'

SINGAPORE - Visiting US Vice-President Joe Biden wrapped up his six-day Asian tour on Saturday by underlining the United States' commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, saying his country "will remain a resident Pacific power".

This commitment is crucial for maintaining peace and prosperity in the region, without which there can be no economic growth or opportunities in the economies of Asia-Pacific nations as well as the US, he said on Saturday.

Mr Biden made the point when he visited the aircraft engine overhaul facility of US company Pratt and Whitney, which has been in Singapore for more than 30 years and employs 2,300 people.

Pointing to the factory in Changi, he said: "The remarkable things happening here are a reminder of what's at stake for the US and the region. Expanding economic opportunity for all people. In our case, especially the American people."

He also told the American business leaders present during his hour-long visit: "We are, we will remain, a resident Pacific power. Let me say that again. We are, and we will remain, a resident Pacific power. And it is in the interests of all nations, especially Pacific nations, that we be there."

The US announced in late 2011 that it would shift more military and diplomatic resources to the Asia-Pacific, in a bid to recalibrate its priorities after two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US' desire to deepen economic and security relations with Asia-Pacific countries was a theme Mr Biden returned to several times in his tour of India and Singapore.

On Saturday, he also reiterated his call to China and ASEAN countries to quickly adopt a code of conduct to manage rising tensions from territorial disputes in the region.

Both made progress on the long-stalled code at a recent ASEAN summit, by agreeing to start formal talks in September.

But tensions remain.

The Philippines has raised alarm at the increased military presence of China in the South China Sea.

Besides the two countries, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also lay claim to disputed territories in those waters.

Mr Biden said the US hopes for more progress at the East Asia Summit in Brunei in October, which will bring together ASEAN and major powers such as the US, Japan and China.

"It would not take much of an incident to escalate, and tensions can turn into conflict... We can't be in a position year after year of merely talking about a code of conduct while tensions continue to increase. Delay only raises risk," he said.

"So as we look ahead towards the East Asia Summit this year, all parties involved should be looking at a way to move quickly toward a substantive code."

Turning to how to sustain economic growth, Mr Biden urged emerging economies to move away from protectionist policies and integrate more deeply in the region.

The US wants to establish a new 21st-century global economic system via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-member free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific that includes the US, Japan and Singapore.

The 18th round of talks ended this week in Malaysia.

Mr Biden reiterated the US role in keeping peace and prosperity in the region at Changi Naval Base, his last stop before going home.

He was visiting sailors of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom, which is in the middle of an eight-month deployment, and the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer, which just completed an exercise with Singapore.

He said: "The truth of the matter is our resident power status is the reason why this area of the world is able to grow and be stable.

"Our mere presence in the Pacific is in and of itself the basis upon which stability of the region is built. You are the glue that holds all this together."

chanckr@sph.com.sg

 


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