The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore
President Biden. Welcome back to the White House. I'm honored to welcome Prime Minister Lee to the White House today. And I'm proud—and I mean this sincerely—I'm really proud of the partnership that—between Singapore and the United States. It's as close and as strong as it's ever been. And together, we're working to uphold a rules-based order—international order, supporting the founding principles of the United Nations—and advance a future for the Indo-Pacific that is both free and open.
As we look toward the future, Prime Minister Lee and I share a commitment to ASEAN as—and its centrality in all of what we do. And I'm looking forward to hosting the ASEAN leaders here in Washington, DC, for a special summit this spring.
We also discussed a wide range of concerns for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. That includes ensuring that all nations in the region, including China, uphold the principles that enable a free and open region. Singapore and the United States are both committed to freedom of navigation as well as the unimpeded flow of maritime commerce in the South China Sea.
We shared our concerns about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and their destabilizing ballistic missile launches and in clear violation—which are clearly in violation of multiple U.N. Council resolutions—Security Council resolutions. And we both urge North Korea to refrain from further provocations and return to the negotiation table for serious and sustained diplomacy.
We're deeply concerned, both of us, by the continuing suffering and violence in Burma, following last year's military coup, the coup that caused humanitarian crisis and reversed a decade of democratic and economic progress for the people of Burma. Singapore and the United States agree that the military regime must urgently implement the ASEAN five-point consensus and return Burma to its path to democratic transition.
And we also discussed the war in Ukraine. Last week, in Europe, the world saw the strong unity for a unified response and resolve among the NATO alliance, the G-7, and the European Union to answer Putin's brutal and unjustified assault on Ukraine.
Today, with the Prime Minister's visit and Singapore's strong leadership on this issue, it's clear that Putin's war is unacceptable to nations in every region of the world—not just Europe, but in every region of the world. It's an attack on the core international principles, and it—that underpin peace and security and prosperity everywhere, including in the Indo-Pacific.
Today, Singapore and the United States are united in sending the message to all nations—to all nations, regardless of their size or population: They are equal in the right—in their rights on the global stage. They have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity and to determine their own future free from violence and intimidation.
Mr. Prime Minister, our nations cooperate closely on security and counterterrorism; we have for some time. And we have deep commercial and economic ties. We've also developed deep personal ties as well, I must acknowledge.
And I—we're going to continue to deepen our partnership and seize the opportunities to meet the challenges of the moment and to meet them together: fighting COVID-19, making sure we're prepared for the next pandemic; increasing our climate ambitions and working to decarbonize the shipping sector; cooperating on everything from cybersecurity to space exploration; promoting a broad-based economic growth throughout the Indo-Pacific, including by working together to develop an Indo-Pacific economic framework that will drive enduring prosperity across the region.
So we have a large agenda, Mr. Prime Minister—an important agenda, a shared vision that we are jointly pursuing: a free and open Indo-Pacific, an Indo-Pacific that is connected, prosperous, and more secure, and more resilient. And the U.S.-Singapore partnership is essential, I believe, to realize that future.
So thank you again, Prime Minister Lee. I always appreciate consulting with you. And as I've told you, both you and Singapore punch way above your weight—way above your weight. And I value the time we spend together, and I look forward to many more meetings.
The floor is yours.
Prime Minister Lee. Thank you, President Biden. Thank you for those warm remarks.
President Biden, ladies and gentlemen: I'd like to thank the President for the very warm welcome that I and my delegation have received.
We last met in Rome on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, but much has changed since those few months ago. Current international uncertainties and crisis underscore the need for countries to work together with close friends and partners. And Singapore deeply appreciates the—America's commitment to engage Southeast Asia, and especially Singapore, despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
We had a very good discussion with President Biden this morning. We reaffirmed the longstanding and multifaceted partnership between Singapore and the U.S. and our shared commitment to a stable, rules-based global order.
The U.S. has played an important and constructive role in the Asia-Pacific for more than—for nearly 80 years. And Singapore has consistently supported a strong U.S. presence in the region through our words and actions.
We have substantial bilateral cooperation on economic, defense, and security issues, and also strong people-to-people ties. Singapore is the second largest Asian investor in the U.S., and the U.S. is the largest investor in Singapore. Singapore's investments in the U.S. and U.S. exports to Singapore support over a quarter million American jobs.
On the defense front, Singapore is a major security cooperation partner of the U.S., in fact, the only country with this status. For more than 30 years, we've had an MOU on defense cooperation, signed in 1990 and recently renewed in 2019, which has provided the U.S. military access to Singapore's air and naval bases.
We are also expanding our cooperation into new areas, including cybersecurity, digital economy, sustainable development, and even space.
Singapore deeply appreciates President Biden's leadership in strengthening U.S. engagement in the region. We welcome his intention to host an ASEAN-U.S. special summit here soon. It's a strong affirmation of American commitment to Southeast Asia and to ASEAN centrality.
The President and I discussed the importance of the U.S. growing both its strategic and economic stakes in the Asia-Pacific. It's important to advance a positive economic agenda that's open, inclusive, up to date, and flexible. We therefore welcome America's proposed Indo-Pacific economic framework, which will strengthen America's engagement in the evolving regional economic architecture.
I discussed with the President his recent visit to Europe and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Singapore is a staunch supporter of international law and the U.N. Charter, which prohibits acts of aggression against a sovereign state. And that's why we have strongly condemned the unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine.
The sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected. The unprovoked military invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext is unacceptable. We cannot condone any country arguing that another country's independence is the result of historical errors and crazy decisions.
I shared with President Biden the measures that Singapore has taken to constrain Russia's capacity to conduct war against Ukraine. Our actions are based on principles that are fundamental to our survival and existence as an independent, sovereign nation. We've upheld these principles and voted in accordance with them at the U.N. in successive crisis over many decades involving different countries.
The war in the Ukraine has implications for the Asia-Pacific. There are potential flashpoints and contentious issues in our region too, which, if not managed well, could escalate to open conflict. Countries with interests in the region need to pursue all efforts to settle disagreements through peaceful means so that we can avoid reaching a point of no return.
It's important, therefore, to keep open channels of dialogue between countries, including at the highest level. This will help to manage developments in order to avoid conflict and prevent misreading each other's intentions.
We also need to create inclusive constructs to bridge differences and encourage cooperation and interdependence in the Asia-Pacific, for example, the APEC leaders' meeting and the proposed Indo-Pacific economic framework.
The U.S. has enduring strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific and many friends in the region who want you to stay actively and consistently engaged. And I'm confident that within this regional context, Singapore's own relationship with the U.S. will continue to grow from strength to strength.
Thank you very much.
President Biden. Thank you. Now, we each agreed we would take one question. And—I'll—as I'll recognize someone first.
Darlene Superville, Associated Press.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. What is your view of Russia's announcement today that it will, quote, "fundamentally" scale back its military operations near Kyiv and another northern city in Ukraine? Do you see this as possibly the war beginning to come to an end, or do you see this as Russia trying to buy time and to recalibrate for a new military effort?
President Biden. We'll see. I don't read anything into it until I see what their actions are. We'll see if they follow through on what they're suggesting. There are negotiations that have begun today—or not begun, continued; today: one in Turkey and others.
I had a meeting with the heads of state of four allies in NATO: France, Germany, the United States, and Great Britain. And there seems to be a consensus that let's just see what they have to offer; we'll find out what they do. But in the meantime, we're going to continue to keep strong the sanctions. We're going to continue to provide the Ukrainian military with their capacity to defend themselves. And we're going to continue to keep a close eye on what's going on.
Prime Minister Lee. I call on Dawn Tan, Channel NewsAsia.
Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. Good afternoon——
Prime Minister Lee. Use the mike.
Q. Oh. Good afternoon, Mr. President. And good afternoon, Prime Minister.
Prime Minister, you've advocated the benefits for the United States to develop a bipartisan consensus on Asia, that Asia depends upon a predictable U.S. policy towards the region.
How assured are you, though, that the momentum that you've seen with ASEAN-U.S. engagement has the ability to move the needle on shared objectives in the Asia-Pacific towards the fundamentals that we all need to live by: peace, prosperity, and economic development? And basically, how well is President Biden doing in this regard? [Laughter]
Prime Minister Lee. I think if you put it at a very broad level, there is consensus in the United States on the direction of their policy in the Asia-Pacific: that they want to engage China; that they are developing—trying to develop a stable, predictable relationship with China; and, at the same time, engaging other countries in the region not just on strategic and security issues, but also on economic cooperation and trade and other investment and environmental and sustainability links.
So, at the very broad level, I think the consensus is there. At the level of specific policies, each administration launches new initiatives. I'm quite convinced, having seen several administrations, that this one is completely focused on achieving something lasting in Asia. And we in Singapore will do our best to help to make sure that their proposals work and will take root and will continue to grow for many years to come.
President Biden. Thank you.
Prime Minister Lee. Thank you, President Biden.
President Biden. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.
Prime Minister Lee. Thank you.
President Biden. Thank you, gentlemen.
NOTE: The President's news conference began at 1:28 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia; President Emmanuel Macron of France; Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany; Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom; and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy.
Joseph R. Biden, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355231