Singapore PM to meet key officials on 5-day visit to US from Oct 22

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - The Prime Minister is expected to discuss US-Singapore bilateral relations and strategic challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make an official working visit to Washington from Oct 22 to 26 at the invitation of United States President Donald Trump, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday (Oct 12).

PM Lee will meet key administration officials as well as members of the congressional leadership, a ministry spokesman added, following the US' announcement on Tuesday (Oct 10) that Mr Trump will meet Mr Lee at the White House on Oct 23.

"PM Lee will also participate in a moderated dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and speak at the Economic Club of Washington, DC," the MFA spokesman said.

The CFR, a leading independent think-tank on foreign policy issues facing the US and others, has announced on its website that a conversation with PM Lee will take place on Oct 25.

He is expected to discuss US-Singapore bilateral relations as well as strategic challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific.

PM Lee took part in a dialogue at the CFR when he was in Washington on a working visit in June 2014, when both countries marked the 10th anniversary of the US-Singapore free trade agreement.

At that dialogue, which veteran US Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy moderated, Mr Lee noted that America was a part of the Asia-Pacific and had many friends in the region, and said it was important for the US to continue engaging in it actively.

It is a theme observers expect to be highlighted during this month's visit, which comes on the eve of President Trump's visit to five countries - and participation in two regional meetings - in East and South-east Asia.

America's key role in the global economy and the need for it to remain open to the world is set to be another key theme.

The Economic Club, which Mr Lee will address, aims to strengthen and promote global awareness of Washington's key economic role. Its past speakers have included US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was Exxon Mobil CEO.

President Trump's press secretary said this week that when both leaders meet, they will discuss ways to further strengthen the economic, political, security and people-to-people ties between their countries.

They will also work to advance US engagement and mutual interests throughout the Indo-Pacific region, she added.

Professor Joseph Liow, dean of the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Mr Lee's first visit to the White House under the Trump administration will be an opportunity for both sides to build on what their leaders established when they first met in Hamburg, Germany, in July, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Leaders' Summit.

"Given concerns that the current US administration might not have much bandwidth for South-east Asia, the visit is an opportunity for a regional leader to reinforce the importance of US-South-east Asia relations," Prof Liow said.

The visit will also be an opportunity to discuss Asean and the Asean-related meetings that Mr Trump is scheduled to attend next month, he noted.

Mr Trump travels to Japan, South Korea and China from Nov 3, before heading to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, and to the Philippines for the Asean-US Summit and East Asia Summit.

"From the Singapore perspective, there will be interest in understanding the Trump administration's view on how it wishes to approach trade and economic integration in the region, and what sort of role they think the US can play in this," Prof Liow said.

"Counterterrorism, a longstanding shared interest, will also be on the table and discussed."

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