Singapore PM warns US of Asia risks

Singapore's prime minister warned that miscalculations in Asia could set back the fast-growing region for years as President Barack Obama hailed the city-state for military cooperation.

US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong before a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2013. Obama praised Singapore on Tuesday as an example to the world and a key source of advice for his diplomatic pivot to Asia.

On a visit to Washington, Lee Hsien Loong said that the United States had "fundamental interests" in freedom of navigation and stability in a region where China's disputes with neighbors have intensified.

"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.

Singapore, while a longstanding US partner, has pursued friendly relations with China. 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.

China nonetheless "wants its rightful place in the sun" and will be "wary of any perceived attempt to conscribe its freedom of action," Lee said.

Relations have worsened between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea, while Vietnam and the Philippines have led Southeast Asian criticism over Beijing's alleged heavy-handedness in South China Sea disputes.

Tensions in Asia have soared in recent weeks due to a crisis with North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb in February and has threatened to attack the United States over what it calls hostility.

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, particularly in China, 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.

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