Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore

October 08, 1985

The President. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs. Lee to Singapore. We greet you today, Mr. Prime Minister, not only as the leader of Singapore but also as a friend and as a senior world citizen—a statesman.

The dazzling success of Singapore in these last two decades shines as a tribute to the hard work and ingenuity of its people and also as a monument to the wise leadership that you have provided your countrymen over your 26 years in office. Mr. Prime Minister, today it is common to hear of the vitality and progress of the Pacific rim; perhaps more than any other, your country exemplifies the spirit which is catapulting Pacific rim nations into a new age. The people of the United States, Mr. Prime Minister, are committed to being part of this great experiment in enterprise and freedom. We are and will remain a Pacific rim country.

Consistent with this, our two countries enjoy ever-broadening commercial ties. Two-way trade between us continues to grow rapidly. The United States is now the largest foreign investor in Singapore—over 400 United States corporations have a presence there. Our people are joined together in a multitude of profit-making enterprises that benefit all concerned. As in many parts of the world, Singapore is struggling to overcome the effects of the international economic downturn, yet your people are free, with every reason to have faith in tomorrow. Freedom is the mainspring of progress that has enriched the lives of our people. Competition, the profit motive, low tax rates that increase incentives to work, save, and invest—these have accomplished much. It is the way to better lives, not only for people in the developed nations but, as you've proven, in the developing nations as well.

The well-being and happiness of our two peoples is living evidence of the rightness of this past. I'm certain that you will agree, Prime Minister Lee, that relatively free and open trade has been a key element of our success. Your country has one of the most open trading markets on the planet. A principal foreign policy objective of the United States is to protect and expand free trade by opening markets now closed or unfairly regulated. This will be a major goal at the next round of trade talks. In striving to accomplish this, I hope, as has been true in so many other areas of common concern, that we can stand shoulder to shoulder. Protectionism is a threat to the living standards our people have worked so hard to build. Once unleashed, it will set in motion a cycle of reaction and paralysis, eventually destroying those it claims to protect.

Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to our discussion today. I'm confident that people of good will working together can make our international trading system work, defeat protectionism, and tear down unfair trade barriers. And, Mr. Prime Minister, you can be proud that under your leadership, Singapore has not only moved forward economically, but it has also stood for democratic government, human rights, and international peace. As a country, like the United States, composed of citizens with many philosophies and religions, your democratic institutions encourage social harmony by protecting the rights of the minority and offering peaceful resolution to differences and conflict. As a genuinely nonaligned nation, Singapore is independent and beholden to no country; we respect this, Mr. Prime Minister. We also admire that, although nonaligned and independent, you have demonstrated a sense of responsibility that few can match—playing a constructive role in the world community of nations and in the Asian-Pacific region.

Mr. Prime Minister, most heartening has been the stand Singapore and its colleagues in the Association of South East Asian Nations have taken against the Vietnam occupation of Cambodia and ASEAN's reasonable proposal for a political settlement returning self-determination to the Cambodian people. You and other ASEAN nations have waged a successful diplomatic offensive, rightfully denying international respectability to the Cambodian puppet regime. At the same time, support has been provided to the non-Communist resistance to this aggression. The United States applauds and supports this courageous effort by its ASEAN friends.

Our two peoples, though separated by thousands of miles, have much in common. We both cherish our political and economic freedom. Our populations are composed of people who are fiercely competitive, who strive for and expect perpetual progress. We're builders, entrepreneurs, people of wisdom. It's natural for us to be friends and to work together, and I'm grateful to have this opportunity to meet with you and discuss a broad range of issues and to renew our personal friendship.

Prime Minister Lee, welcome to America.

The Prime Minister. Mr. President, it is an honor to be received by you. I'm delighted to find you as robust as ever. Great leaders mirror the qualities of the nations they lead, and I see in your demeanor an America at peace, prosperous, and facing the future with confidence.

Since 1945 American leadership has been a constant factor in an ever-changing world. What the leader of the world's most powerful country and the world's largest economy does affects Singapore and the rest of East and Southeast Asia. Twenty years ago there was no external power that could have challenged the preeminence of the United States in Southeast Asia. In 1975, when the Communists captured South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the outlook turned bleak. Few dared to believe that American resolve to stay in power in the region would not melt, that the U.S. fleet and Air Force would continue to be based in the region.

What is more, America's economy has boosted growth in the non-Communist countries of Southeast Asia and made them peaceful, prosperous, and confident societies. Out of the travail in Vietnam and its tragic ending, the non-Communist countries of Southeast Asia came to understand the imperative of self-reliance and of cooperation between themselves. They grew closer together in political and economic cooperation as member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations. They have sustained stability and achieved rapid economic growth.

I first visited the White House 18 years ago, when I was welcomed by President Lyndon Johnson. Since then, the bonds of common interests between Singapore and the United States have grown deeper and more extensive. Mr. President, I look forward to my discussions with you and your colleagues, and I'm sure that our discussions will be positive and constructive. The ties between the United States and Singapore will strengthen, for it is an association that rests easily on both of us and our governments and brings mutual benefits.

Thank you, Mr. President, for this warm welcome.

Note: The President spoke at 10:12 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House, where the Prime Minister was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. Following the ceremony, the President and the Prime Minister met in the Oval Office.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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