Biden: Deepen US-S'pore cooperation

SINGAPORE - Singapore and the United States, already established partners on multiple fronts, can deepen their cooperation in regional issues as well as security concerns like nuclear proliferation and cybercrime, US Vice-President Joe Biden has suggested.

"Singapore plays an absolutely central role in South-east Asia," said Mr Biden, who arrived on Thursday night for his first-ever visit to Singapore, in a written interview with The Straits Times.

"We see a huge opportunity to strengthen our relationships in Singapore, and to really expand them, as part of our rebalancing strategy, so that both nations, and the region as a whole, can benefit from the work we do together."

The two countries have significantly stepped up bilateral collaboration of late. In February last year, they signed new agreements to conduct annual strategic talks, as well as to jointly embark on developmental projects in the Lower Mekong region.

In April this year, the US Navy dispatched its first littoral combat ship to Singapore as part of the Obama administration's strategy to "rebalance" military and diplomatic resources to the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Biden also cited the ongoing talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed 12-nation free trade agreement, as another opportunity for the US and Singapore to build on their already strong economic ties.

Washington increasingly sees the TPP as a way to regain its economic leadership in the region. America's economic position in the Asia-Pacific has declined in the past decade relative to that of China, which is now the No. 1 trading partner for many countries in the region.

"Part of the purpose of this trip is to highlight just how important we view our economic relationship with Singapore and across South-east Asia," said Mr Biden.

"(US and Asean leaders) are working together to create momentum in our trade relationship and building blocks to facilitate the potential future participation of all Asean countries in high- standard trade agreements like the TPP."

Mr Biden was expected to further address regional trade and economic issues on Saturday when he would be speaking at Pratt and Whitney, a US company with seven business units in Singapore which repair and overhaul aircraft engine parts. He would also visit the USS Freedom, the littoral combat ship that is on an eight-month deployment to South-east Asia.

On Friday, Mr Biden would have a flurry of meetings with Singapore leaders, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

No new bilateral initiatives are expected to be announced during the visit, though Mr Biden cited energy, climate change, maritime security, nuclear proliferation and cybercrime as areas in which both nations can enhance their cooperation. He did not elaborate.

"Singapore is a crucial partner for the United States on regional security and economic matters," he said. "That's why I'm so delighted to visit and to continue these discussions, in person, with Singapore's leaders."

Mr Biden would also meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was in town as part of his tour to three South-east Asian countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines.

HUGE OPPORTUNITY

We see a huge opportunity to strengthen our relationships in Singapore, and to really expand them, as part of our rebalancing strategy, so that both nations, and the region as a whole, can benefit from the work we do together.

- US Vice-President Joe Biden

'Central role for Singapore in S-E Asia'

UNITED States Vice-President Joe Biden, who is in town for a two-day visit, gave his thoughts on a wide range of diplomatic and economic concerns in a written interview with The Straits Times. Here are excerpts of his comments.

ON US-INDIA RELATIONS

"I see a historic moment for our two countries. It's an opportunity for us to work together in a way that doesn't just benefit each of us, but benefits the entire world, particularly the Asia-Pacific region. We also focused on how essential India's role is in the region, not just as an economic and security power, but as a genuine beacon of democracy, one that is helping debunk the totally false choice between development and freedom."

"When a lot of people think about this relationship, they think only in terms of suspicion. But I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. The truth is more hopeful, and probably more complicated.

"Right now, there are obviously some real disagreements between our countries on certain issues. And I don't expect those to disappear overnight. But I think we ought to be able to put ourselves in a position where we can be straightforward and honest with one another, and in doing so, find solutions that really work for both of us."

ON US-SINGAPORE RELATIONS

"Singapore plays an absolutely central role in South-east Asia. We see a huge opportunity to strengthen our relationships in Singapore, and to really expand them, as part of our rebalancing strategy, so that both nations, and the region as a whole, can benefit from the work we do together.

"We can build on our essential security relationship too, by improving cooperation on a range of issues, including maritime security and law enforcement efforts to fight terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cybercrime. And we can build on our deep partnerships in areas like energy, the environment and climate change, where our cooperation can play an even greater role in the region."

chinhon@sph.com.sg


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