WASHINGTON – Singapore's prime minister has warned that miscalculations in Asia could set back the fast-growing region for years as President Barack Obama hailed the city-state for military co-operation.
On a visit to Washington, Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday said that the United States had "fundamental interests" in freedom of navigation and stability in a region.
"We should seek to prevent any miscalculation or mishap which will set the region back for many years," Lee told a dinner of business leaders after talks at the White House with Obama.
Lee said he believed there was "enough common ground" for the two Pacific powers to accommodate each other's interests.
"The US, as the incumbent superpower who will remain dominant for decades to come, naturally has interests to protect," he said.
Singapore has given the green light for the temporary deployment of four littoral combat ships, which are meant to project US power in shallow coastal waters. The first, the USS Freedom, is on its way across the Pacific.
"We have extremely close military cooperation," Obama said as he met with Lee at the Oval Office, praising the capitalist Southeast Asian state as "one of the most successful countries in the world."
"I want to thank Singapore for all the facilities that they provide that allow us to maintain our effective Pacific presence," Obama said.
Singapore has traditionally been a key source of advice and interpretation of events in Asia for US administrations, and Obama said that Lee had been especially helpful to him.
"Personally, there are very few world leaders who I am more appreciative of in terms of their advice, counsel and thoughtful analysis than Prime Minister Lee," Obama said.
The meeting focused on regional security challenges as well as trade, with Singapore and the United States key players in the evolving Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.
Lee, in an address to the US Chamber of Commerce and US-ASEAN Business Council, called on the United States to pursue a "more active trade agenda" despite the political pitfalls for Obama at home.
"In Asia, trade is strategy. A more active trade agenda will benefit the US economically and strategically," Lee said.
The Singaporean prime minister called Southeast Asia "a huge market" for the United States, saying that the world's largest economy enjoyed advantages thanks to its creative innovation.
Lee welcomed Japan's decision to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, which will offer a major boost in the size of the potential pact even if its presence may complicate negotiations. AFP