Sign up | Log in



Singapore-U.S. Relations to Set Pace for Twenty-first Century U.S. Engagement in Southeast Asia

By Phuong Nguyen (@PNguyen_DC), Associate Fellow, Southeast Asia Program (@SoutheastAsiaDC), CSIS

Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong will pay an official visit to Washington, complete with a state dinner in his honor hosted by President Barack Obama, on August 1-2. The visit comes as the two countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Lee will be the first leader from Southeast Asia hosted for a state dinner at the Obama White House, a privilege enjoyed by only four other Asian leaders—from China, Japan, India, and South Korea—during Obama’s two terms.

The importance with which the administration accords the visit is evidence of the recognition in Washington that Singapore is an indispensable U.S. strategic partner and an anchor for U.S. engagement with the Southeast Asia region.

While the two countries have over the decades built a close and robust partnership spanning from trade and investment to defense and regional security and development cooperation, both sides know that the bilateral relationship is a mature one, with little low-hanging fruit left to pick. Ensuring the strength of the Singapore-U.S. partnership for decades to come hence requires continuous investment by both countries to identify new critical areas of cooperation and, increasingly, consult one another on a host of emerging trends and challenges under way in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

The United States and Singapore have recently begun to do so in cyber defense and biosecurity—two areas in which Singapore is well-positioned to become a leading regional U.S. partner—but more can be done. Of equal importance, the two partners should be creative in thinking about the structure and utility of bilateral dialogue mechanisms in future years.

As Washington works to bolster its economic footprint and engagement in Southeast Asia, it is crucial for the U.S. government to understand and appreciate how its closest economic partner in this region views the forces driving regional integration and economic development in twenty-first century Asia.

Since 2012, Washington and Singapore have conducted an annual Strategic Partnership Dialogue, an avenue for senior officials to review progress in ongoing areas of cooperation and discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest. Future U.S. administrations could expand the dialogue to include a consultation mechanism covering trade, economics, and innovation for government agencies and officials with relevant portfolios from both sides.

The bulk of U.S. investment in Asia is concentrated in ASEAN economies, and Singapore, home to over 5,000 U.S. companies operating in the region, serves as the logistical, research and development, legal, and judicial backbone for many of these companies.

Understanding this perspective—whether it be the role Singapore plans to play in the new China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), or what it sees as emerging areas in which the United States needs to lead or help improve the rules of the road—will be critical to Washington’s ability to prepare for and respond to the economic landscape of an increasingly interconnected Asia.

Meanwhile, bilateral defense cooperation has made significant strides in recent years with rotational deployments of four U.S. Navy littoral combat ships through Changi Naval Base, the signing of an enhanced defense cooperation agreement last December, and regular flights over the South China Sea conducted by U.S. P-8A maritime patrol aircraft from Paya Lebar Air Base beginning in 2015. The two sides last year also agreed to establish high-level defense dialogue mechanisms.

In addition to areas in which the two governments have agreed to expand cooperation such as military technology and non-traditional security challenges, the United States can encourage Singapore to gradually play a bigger role in U.S.-led regional exercises, including in trilateral drills of the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise in Southeast Asian waters and the biannual Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii.

At the same time, the popular narrative in Washington about what has come to be known as the “Singapore model” fostered by its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew—authoritarian and effective—needs to evolve if U.S. officials and policy analysts are to keep abreast of Singapore’s political trajectory. The landslide victory of the ruling People’s Action Party last September, along with Lee Kuan Yew’s death, has allowed Prime Minister Lee to propose a number of concrete changes to the political system designed to give the opposition a little more presence and influence in parliament in order to make the system “more open and contestable” in the future. Singaporeans both in and outside the government have been vigorously debating how their society ought to adapt at the current juncture, whether it is about the function of the civil service or the effectiveness of the education system.

But while the strength of the relationship gives Washington confidence, future U.S. policymakers may want to remember that Singapore is also a deft diplomatic balancer. Singapore policymakers have been strong believers in the strategic utility of U.S. leadership globally, and in the Asia Pacific in particular. Singapore leaders have consistently advocated for the United States to write the rules of trade and investment in Asia in the twenty-first century, and for China to abide by international rules and norms.

Yet they also see the importance of accommodating China’s rise and regional aspirations. Singapore, for instance, has been very supportive of both the AIIB and the planned “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and was one of the first countries in Asia to set up cooperation mechanisms with Beijing in response to these initiatives. It has also begun working with China to research the process for the internationalization of the renminbi. Singapore knows that it needs to be prepared to live in a region in which China may become the uncontested leader.

It is critical, therefore, for Washington to actively court Singapore, no matter how close and established the relationship, and at the same time tap into the perspectives gained from this partnership to calibrate U.S. strategy toward and engagement with the Southeast Asia region in the coming years.

Courtesy: This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. cogitASIA blog

Comment on this Article. Send them to

Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below

Reach Southeast Asia!
10- Nations, 560- Million Consumers
And $1 -Trillion Market
We are the Voice of Southeast Asia Media Kit
The only Media Dedicated to Southeast Asia Advertising Rates for Magazine
Online Ad Rates




1.  Verifier

1. Verifier

For security purposes, we ask that you enter the security code that is shown in the graphic. Please enter the code exactly as it is shown in the graphic.
Your Code
Enter Code

Today's  Stories                           July 22, 2016 Subsribe Now !
• PM okays exceptions for Ha Noi railway  Subcribe: Asean Affairs Global Magazine
• Brunei keen to attract more FDIs to diversify economy 
• City calls for more investment from Singapore
Research Reports
on Thailand 2007-2008

• Textiles and Garments Industry
• Coffee industry
• Leather and footwear industry
• Shrimp industry

• Life insurance market to take on new player
• Singapore-U.S. Relations to Set Pace for Twenty-first Century U.S. Engagement in Southeast Asia
Asean Analysis                  Jully 22, 2016
• Asean Analysis July 22, 2016
‘Singapore-U.S. Relations to Set Pace for Twenty-first Century U.S. Engagement in Southeast Asia
Advertise Your Brand

Asean Stock Watch   July  22, 2016
• Asean Stock Watch-July 22, 2016
The Biweekly Update
• The Biweekly Update  July 22, 2016

ASEAN NEWS UPDATES      Updated: 04 January 2011

 • Women Shariah scholars see gender gap closing
• Bank Indonesia may hold key rate as inflation hits 7 percent
• Bursa Malaysia to revamp business rules
• Private property prices hit new high in Singapore • Bangkok moves on mass transport
• Thai retailers are upbeat
• Rice exports likely to decline • Vietnamese PM projects 10-year socioeconomic plan


This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


Home | About Us | Contact Us | Special Feature | Features | News | Magazine | Events | TV | Press Release | Advertise With us

| Terms of Use | Site Map | Privacy Policy  | DISCLAIMER |

Version 5.0
Copyright © 2006-2020 TIME INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT ENTERPRISES CO., LTD. All rights reserved.
Bangkok, Thailand