04 Aug SIIA Chairman Simon Tay comments on US State Dinner for PM Lee on Singapore Tonight
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in the United States this week, in a visit that marked 50 years of US-Singapore diplomatic relations, and saw PM Lee receive the rare honour of being hosted for a state dinner by President Barack Obama.
Mr Obama has hosted relatively few such occasions during his time in office and Singapore is the first Southeast Asian nation to receive the honour. During the visit, PM Lee and Mr Obama made comments about issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement involving both countries, and several MOUs were signed between the US and Singapore.
SIIA Chairman Simon Tay appeared on Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Tonight programme on Wednesday, 3 August, answering questions about the symbolism and significance of PM Lee’s trip.
The programme also featured a video report on PM Lee’s trip to the US filed by Mr. Nicholas Fang, Deputy Chief Editor, Singapore News, Mediacorp for Channel NewsAsia. Mr. Fang is concurrently Executive Director of the SIIA.
The programme and other past episodes is available on Toggle, or in the embedded player below.
Angela Lim: The US went all out with the red carpet treatment for PM Lee and Singapore, but beyond the symbolic gestures, what is the key takeaway from this trip, do you think?
Simon Tay: Well, it’s really a big day for a small country. But more than that it’s really a big day for Obama’s pivot to Asia. He’s become much closer to the Philippines, much closer to Vietnam, engaged China on many fronts, but he needs friends, he needs anchors in the region, and Singapore has stood out as one of them.
John Leong: We also heard that several MOUs were signed around cybersecurity, around technology, among others. Where does this put bilateral relations between us?
Simon Tay: It really shows the multifaceted agreements between Singapore and America. Some of these issues, like cyberterrorism are really hot issues that people are struggling with. And for America to turn to these cutting edge issues with Singapore, I think is a great one. Another area to advance later on would be innovation in e-space. So economic, security, people-to-people – the relationship is deep and will be long lasting no matter who the president is.
Angela Lim: Come January there will be a new US administration in place. What do you see for US-Singapore relations, bearing in mind there are two potential candidates for President?
Simon Tay: Well, right now it’s a really hot season, and I’m very glad that PM Lee managed to have a state dinner with the broad political elite. Because that’s important for the relationship. It’s not just the President, though the Presidents are important, it’s the whole establishment of America. And I think no matter who wins, there must be some way for the relationship to continue, because it’s a fundamental relationship.
John Leong: Another issue to come up in the political rhetoric of the campaign of the two candidates so far has been TPP, and that was also an ongoing theme in PM’s visit there. How big is this concern that the TPP may end up not being passed?
Simon Tay: I was in America last year, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this trade agreement that links not just us and America, but countries across the whole region, is critical. It’s a pivot for Obama in the economic sense, it is key besides the security engagement. But right now, though, it’s Congress that’s holding it up. So again it was good that PM Lee spoke, not just to Obama, but the broad political elite of America, to say: this is important, this is essential for America to really be deeply engaged with our region, not just our country.
Angela Lim: In the event that the TPP is not ratified, what does that mean for Singapore?
Simon Tay: I think that it will be, eventually. The question is whether it can be done in this dead session of America’s Congress before they start again in the fall before Obama leaves office, or it may come back later. Now, both candidates, Donald Trump and even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have come out against it. That speaks of the American mood. So if it doesn’t pass now, it might take a year, maybe two years. But I think people recognise the analysis that this is good for America. It will take Americans, though, in their mood, some time to recognise it. And I’m glad that PM Lee and Singapore has had a chance to push this issue.
Photo Credit: Channel NewsAsia