Embassy of the Republic of Singapore - Washington D.C.

Speech by Ambassador Chan Heng Chee at the 2012 Asia Society Washington Awards Dinner, Wednesday 19 June 2012

I thank Asia Society for the Diplomatic Achievement Award. I will cherish this fondly.  You have done a great deal to boost and highlight the work of diplomats in Washington with the inauguration of this award and I am proud to stand with many distinguished awardees this evening who have contributed to international diplomacy.


I have been Singapore's Ambassador to the United States for 16 years.  You can say the preparation for my job began with Asia Society.  Before there was the other Asian Councils, there was Asia Society.  It was set up by John D Rockefeller who had a deep interest in Asia.  His son, David Rockefeller carried on the great tradition.  Asia Society ran the Williamsburg Conference, one of the most important high-level, high powered small group conferences when they started.  That I was an outspoken academic in Singapore seemed to be someone Williamsburg wanted to include in its conference.  I was fortunate to attend a few.  There is a photograph of the Williamsburg in Baguio hanging in Asia Society in New York, where I am standing next to Dick Holbrooke.  He had his big Afro hair in those days, I had dark rimmed glasses with long straight hair, de riguer for young women aspiring to be taken seriously.  The discussions and debates at the Williamsburg Conferences prepared young intellectuals and officials from Asia for leadership and diplomacy.  I interacted with Han Sung Joo, Kim Koon Won, Lee Hong-Koo, Jusuf Wanadi, Tommy Koh, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Carolina Hernandez, Jaime Ayala, Takahashi Inoguchi, Tadashi Yamamoto and later many Chinese intellectuals as well.  I got to know many of the wise men of American foreign policy and US officials.  In these meetings, we discussed policies and exchanged perspectives.  I learned to listen and to pitch messages in a multilateral meeting, and how to argue with Americans.  So I should thank Asia Society for starting me on the diplomatic journey.


Having been in Washington for so long, I've been frequently asked -what has changed in the US-Singapore relationship and what has changed in our diplomacy over this period.  My reply is our bilateral relationship has changed because Singapore has changed.  The US-Singapore relationship has broadened and deepened.  When I arrived as Ambassador in 1996, our interests were not as wide ranging.  It was focused on 1) Trade and investments, 2) Defence Co-operation which began with the 1990 MOU which facilitated access to visiting US forces to use our facilities when the US left Subic Base and Clark Airbase, and 3) Political Co-operation bilaterally and in multilateral forums such as WTO, APEC and ARF.


The Singapore economy today has become more diversified and sophisticated, so our interest in engaging the United States changed to cover many more areas and deepened.  We actively sought and concluded the bilateral FTA with the United States, and is currently one of 9 countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership.  In the last 2 days, Mexico and Canada have joined as TPP participants.  Their full participation in the negotiations will come after the consultations in the respective domestic processes of the current members.  


In 2011, Singapore-US bilateral trade stood at US$61 billion.  The United States was Singapore's 5th largest trading partner while Singapore was the 15th largest trading partner of the United States.  We are your 13th largest export market, small country though we are.   In investments, the United States is Singapore's 2nd largest investor.  Singapore is the 4th largest Asian investor in the United States after Japan, Australia and Korea. 


Singapore is a nation of free traders.  We believe reducing tariff barriers in the Asia-Pacific region will be good for prosperity and stability.  The expectation that economies worldwide are slowing down makes the TPP even more relevant to push back protectionist tendencies and dissuade countries from turning inward.  The TPP can expand further and become inclusive and that will be good for the region.


Our defence relationship moved forward from the 1990 MOU.  In 2001, the Kitty Hawk docked at the Changi Naval Base when it was ready for use.  Many ship visits have taken place since.  In 2005, Singapore went on to sign the Strategic Framework Agreement with the United States.  This Agreement summed up the expanded co-operation to include counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and intelligence exchange.  In 2012, as a follow on of the 1990 MOU and 2005 SFA, Singapore agreed in principle to the US request to forward deploy up to 4 LCS on a rotational basis to Singapore. 


We continue our political co-operation bilaterally and multilaterally.  In the regional forums of ARF and EAS, we work with the United States in a broad range of areas, such as education and health to Humanitarian Assistance in Disaster Relief (HADR) and maritime security.  We worked also to further the goal of APEC which made Honolulu a successful meeting.  As for bilateral political cooperation, in February this year, Foreign Minister K Shanmugam and Secretary Hillary Clinton signed a MOU for Technical Cooperation for Third Party which is described as a new model of cooperation going forth.  In other words, we jointly go to a third country to provide technical assistance.  Singapore does TCTP with multilateral institutions and countries who wish to work with us. 


Education and cultural exchanges feature as a major area of collaboration.   We are not just visiting American best schools and you do have really good top magnet schools.  We also visit schools that deal well with the educationally challenged to learn from you.   We hear a great deal about what's wrong with American schools and there are in likelihood problems, but there are some bright good aspects about American education that are worth learning.  For University collaborations, there are many, I can name the Duke-NUS Medical School, the Yale-NUS campus, MIT-Singapore-Zhejiang University collaboration to establish the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and Harvard's early collaboration with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. And I must mention the Peabody Institute partnership with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.  Lately, our museums have been working with the Smithsonian Institution to build up our expertise. 


But in the end, the bilateral relationship will be carried more deeply through people to people ties at different levels as young Singaporeans and young Americans live, work and study in each other's countries.   And there are many of them.  More Singaporean students in United States than Americans in Singapore but the state of our bilateral relationship is strong.

Thank you




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