Straits Times: S'pore 'seeks peace in S. China Sea'

Days after he shared his views on the South China Sea with Beijing, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated Singapore's stance on the territorial dispute to leaders from the United States and the Philippines.

In meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Mr Lee stressed that while Singapore did not have a claim on the disputed waters, it had an interest in preserving peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the area.

He again called for "moderation and restraint" from all the claimants, and for Asean to be at the heart of the discussions.

"The dispute should be resolved through negotiations and in accordance with international law. In this regard, Asean can play an effective and moderating role, without taking any sides," said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr Lee met the two leaders in a flurry of back-to-back bilateral meetings yesterday morning, as world leaders gathered for the first day of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economic leaders' meeting.

His meeting with Mrs Clinton ran for almost 45 minutes, and also touched on Iran and the state of the world economy.

Mr Lee also met his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda, who called for more tie-ups between Singapore and Japanese firms in infrastructural development and investment in the region. Both men also welcomed the launch of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which brings Asean and its six dialogue partners together, at the Asean Summit in November.

The US and the Philippines are among the more outspoken voices in the increasingly heated dispute over the South China Sea, where China faces competing claims from Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

Mr Lee just concluded a six-day trip in China on Friday, saying that China understood Singapore's position on the dispute and that it was not at odds with China's.

While the Apec summit aims to focus on economic issues of trade and growth, it risks being distracted by territorial disputes and tensions between members of the Asia-Pacific grouping.

The host of the summit, Russia, however, has been trying to keep the agenda focused on opening up regional trade, with Russian President Vladimir Putin urging fellow leaders to "build bridges, not walls".

Later, at the first leaders' retreat, Mr Lee stressed the need for efficient and reliable supply chains in opening and liberalising trade.

Global supply chains are as much an outcome as they are a catalyst of a dynamic business environment, he said, and called on countries to give higher priority to building transport infrastructure on their own, and to enhance the security and resilience of supply chains collectively.

Singapore, he said, had made efforts to improve Customs clearance and streamline application and trade compliance processes.

Noting that Apec leaders had identified the issue of supply chains as an important next-generation trade and investment issue last year, he urged them to foster a climate of cooperation, provide a platform for economies to share experiences and improve coordination.

After the retreat, Mr Lee met business representatives from the Apec Business Advisory Council before attending an official dinner with his wife Ho Ching, hosted by Mr Putin.