In Washington D.C. Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump develop diplomatic relations and address the North Korean issue.

Yesterday (Oct 23) Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump signed a $13.8 billion deal for Singapore Airlines (SIA) to purchase 39 commercial aircrafts from the US plane manufacturer Boeing. Creating an estimated 70,000 jobs in the US and increasingly modernizing SIA’s resources, Mr. Lee called the deal a “win-win” for both sides.

In a recent interview with CNBC Asia on Oct 19, Prime Minister Lee expressed that the reason for his visit to Washington from 21 to 26 October 2017, in addition to signing the airplane deal, was to develop Singapore’s “very sound relationship” with the Trump administration and the United States.

Singapore and the US share invaluable economic and political ties that span decades. In a joint press conference in Washington DC on Monday, Trump praised Singapore for everything from its economic prosperity in the past half-century to being “the only Asian country to have contributed both military assets and personnel” to support the coalition to defeat ISIS. Mr Lee, in turn, reaffirmed his support of American military presence in Southeast Asia and the joint military cooperation between the two nations.

According to Trump, the friendship between the US and Singapore has “never been stronger than it is right now.”

However, behind the showers of praise and glowing compliments, recent hiccups have occurred in the seemingly pristine relationship between the two countries. Earlier this year, on his third day in office, Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a 12 nation trade agreement negotiated under former President Barack Obama.

Though expressing public disappointment at the move, Prime Minister Lee has stated that he hopes the remaining 11 countries will continue to take the agreement forward and create “further developments” even without the involvement of the US. But with Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP, the expectation is that more countries in the agreement will turn towards China to compensate for losing such a consequential partner. When questioned about China’s role in the TPP after Trump’s decision, Prime Minister Lee attempted to avoid complications with the US by stating that China’s economic success makes “all the countries in Asia want to be [its] friend and want to benet from [its] development and success.”

Singapore wishes to balance its respective friendships with China and the US, both of whom are indispensable economic allies of the nation. However, North Korea’s recent actions have complicated matters among the trio, as rising tensions between China and the US may threaten Singapore to take sides in the future.

In an interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Lee expressed his growing concern with Singapore’s relationships between China and the US, especially in light of North Korea’s recent provocations. “If America, China relations become very difficult, our position becomes tougher because then we will be coerced to choose between being friends with America and being friends with China… That’s a real worry,” Lee stated.

During the press conference at the Rose Garden on Monday, Trump asserted that both the US and Singapore “share an unwavering commitment to countering the North Korean threat and promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.” Lee affirmed his support of  Trump’s condemnation of North Korea’s dangerous provocations but diplomatically asserted that such situations have no easy and quick solution. “Pressure is necessary,” Lee stated, “but so is dialogue. The US will need to work with others, including China, to resolve the issue.”

Read also: The North Korean Grand Strategy May Actually Work

Yeji is covering the White House.

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