SINGAPORE: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday said she believes that Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific will dictate the future of the world as she held talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as part of her Southeast Asia visit aimed at bolstering America’s engagement in the region.
Harris, at a press conference here with Lee, pointed out that the agreements the US has inked with Singapore and the Southeast Asian region are evidence of its strength and enduring relationships around the globe.
These are not only priorities that relate to the US’ security or economic interests but they also relate to challenges the world faces going forward – such as future pandemics and what countries can do together to research on and stop them, she said.
“This is a relationship that is based on a shared vision, both in terms of the challenges we face, and also the opportunities that we face… It is about the future in terms of our mutual commitment, curiosity and interest,” said Harris, who arrived here on Sunday but was given a formal welcome on Monday at Singapore”s Presidential Palace, the Istana.
“It is about what we have in terms of shared values for the need for universal norms on the issue of cybersecurity. It is about the interest that we have in being a global partner on the issue of vaccines, for example, and our shared commitment – understanding that when we have the resources, we will share them with the world,” she said.
These are the things that Singapore and the United States have in common, the US Vice President said.
“And with that common purpose and with a similar approach to our responsibility for our own citizens and our responsibility as global citizens… we will continue to partner in a way that benefits not only Singaporeans and Americans, but the rest of the world,” Harris said.
Vice President Harris’ visit to Singapore is part of a diplomatic charm offensive by the Biden administration in Southeast Asia, a region that is crucial to the future prosperity and security of the United States, amidst China’s aggressive actions in the region.
Addressing the press conference, Prime Minister Lee said: “Our two countries have robust cooperation on transnational issues including terrorism, cybersecurity and counter-proliferation… we were later the first Southeast Asian country to contribute personnel and assets to the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS.”
He said that the US is a partner nation in Singapore’s newly-established multilateral Counter-Terrorism Information Facility, and intelligence and law enforcement agencies on both sides hold regular dialogues.
Defence cooperation between both countries is underpinned by the 1990 MoU on the use of facilities in Singapore, which provides the US with military access to Singapore’s naval and air bases.
As the US’ major security cooperation partner, Singapore has consistently supported a strong US presence in the region through its words and actions, said Lee.
“We work together in these forums, reflecting our shared commitment to multilateralism to tackle regional and global issues like climate change,” he said, noting that the US has played an important and constructive role in defence and security in the region for over 70 years.
Both Harris and Lee hailed the robust and enduring partnership between the two countries and announced new areas of cooperation in cybersecurity, climate, economy and combating pandemics.
Harris underlined America’s appreciation for Singapore’s longstanding and enduring friendship in the context of Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific, while Lee reaffirmed Singapore’s appreciation for the US’ active role in the Asia Pacific, especially in Southeast Asia.
They also expressed their shared support for a stable, rules-based international order in the region, where all countries can both cooperate and compete peacefully with one another and prosper together.
Harris’ high-level visit, the first under the administration of President Joe Biden, comes as Singapore and the US mark 55 years of diplomatic ties.
The Vice President called on President Halimah Yacob, followed by meetings with Lee as well as several Singapore ministers.
Lee said the visit emphasises the US administration’s commitment to the region.
Harris said the pandemic has had a profound impact on economies, families and workers and exposed the vulnerability of supply chains, which the US hopes to shore up with regional partners.
“Supply chains, without any question, are critical to ensuring that businesses can source the materials they need, get products to market, and enable people to buy these products,” she said, adding that a shortage of semiconductor chips would impact the production of a range of items from smartphones to laptops and cars.
“So, working together with partners like Singapore on strengthening supply chains is critical in… ensuring Americans can provide for their families,” she said.
Lee said that there is a substantial agenda of deliverables which will enhance the US-Singapore partnership, and he is confident that the longstanding and multi-faceted bilateral relationship will continue to strengthen year by year.
Singapore is the second largest Asian investor in the US, with a direct investment stock of USD 65 billion. These investments and American exports to Singapore support over 250,000 American jobs.
Singapore is also home to nearly 5,500 US companies.
The US is its largest foreign investor, with foreign direct investment stock of USD 315 billion – more than US investments in China, India and South Korea combined.
Later on Monday, Harris will visit Changi Naval Base and US littoral combat ship USS Tulsa, which is in port for a multilateral exercise.
On Tuesday, she will deliver a policy speech and participate in a round-table discussion with the business community.
Her trip comes on the heels of Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines in July.
Singapore and the US have had regular, high-level engagements under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Both sides also announced a flurry of agreements on Sunday to strengthen their collaboration in cybersecurity, climate change, the economy, pandemics and space.
A new initiative is the US-Singapore Partnership for Growth and Innovation, which will strengthen bilateral and regional collaboration on trade and investment, beginning with four pillars: the digital economy, energy and environmental technologies, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare.
“We are elevating the US-Singapore Collaboration Platform MoU to a new Partnership for Growth and Innovation, and look forward to the MoU’s early conclusion and expansion of cooperation in advanced manufacturing and the digital economy,” Lee added.