Remarks at a State Lunch for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
August 2, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you very much. Please, everybody, please take your seats. Welcome to the State Department, Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Lee; and Mr. Vice President, Dr. Biden; my counterpart, Foreign Minister Balakrishnan and Mrs. Balakrishnan, and distinguished guests all. We are really delighted to welcome you here this afternoon.

Your Excellency, we have been very, very much looking forward to welcoming you here. I am personally pleased to have a chance to repay you for the many visits I have made to your beautiful country and the warm hospitality I have continually received, and particularly last year when we had a chance to visit. As the President said repeatedly in both private conversation and public, Singapore may be a small country, but it is a small country with an extraordinarily large voice and impact on its region, and indeed even on the world. And your leadership, Mr. Prime Minister, over the last dozen years has contributed very significantly to a model of good governance, to economic dynamism, and intercultural harmony. And I am not just saying that because you went to graduate school in Massachusetts. (Laughter.)

Now, this very elegant set of rooms that we are privileged to borrow for the purposes of our diplomacy see us gathered in a place that is dedicated to the memory of the men and women who founded the United States of America more than 200 years ago. But in Singapore, the memory of the nation’s founder is still very much at the forefront of everybody’s mind.

Back in 1967 when Lee Kuan Yew arrived here for his first state visit, President Lyndon Johnson referred to him as a formidable thinker, as the architect of his nation’s future, as the spokesman for a new generation in a new Asia, and as the number-one golfer among all presidents and prime ministers in the world. (Laughter.) And in the decades that followed, every element of that description was borne out. During my years in the United States Senate, I was privileged to take full advantage of the chance to meet with Lee Kuan Yew as the Vice President did, and both of us would attest there was no person, no mind that had as good a sense of strategy and as good an understanding of the region as Lee Kuan Yew. And we were privileged to solicit his thoughts on everything from the rise of China, to the emergence of the Asian Tigers, to the best role for the United States in the region. And I know our friend the former Secretary Henry Kissinger is here, and he did the same. Right? It didn’t all come from Henry, folks, is the point I’m making. (Laughter.)

The founder, Lee Kuan Yew, was the first to really point out that the center of economic and political gravity in the world was shifting to the East, a trend that was later recognized by President Obama, when, early in his Administration, he announced a rebalance of U.S. foreign policy in the direction of Asia. And today, our friendship with Singapore and with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is playing a major role in that rebalance.

More than 3,700 U.S. companies have a presence in Singapore. Our students sit in each other’s classrooms. We collaborate in training the regional leaders of tomorrow. And our armed forces cooperate on every single level. And it was Singapore that actually invited the United States to join the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that is good for American workers and businesses, good for Singapore, good for the environment, and essential to unite 40 percent of the global economy around standards that create a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.

The fact is that if we list the primary challenges facing the globe today to generate shared prosperity, fight corruption, defeat violent extremism, prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to preserve the environment, the health of our planet, and to strengthen the rule of law both within and among nations, Singapore and the United States are allies operating absolutely hand-in-glove on every single one of those issues. And that is what strategic partnership means. And that is a friendship, believe me, worth celebrating, which is precisely what we’re here to do this afternoon.

I’m glad to say that we have some help in doing that. In the Monroe Room next door, I just had the privilege of showing the prime minister a table where our librarians have set up a display of books, maps, and pamphlets related to Singapore’s history which are part of our archive. And both here and downstairs, all of you, we have been entertained by musicians from the United States Navy and Army bands. We will be treated a little bit later to a performance by the stars of Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Phantom of the Opera, and in the next few minutes we will enjoy the artistry of our wonderful guest chef Kevin Sbraga of Philadelphia, who is a participant in the State Department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership program.

So I want to drink a toast – ask you all to join me in a toast, but before you raise your glasses, I just want to say one thing. I listened carefully to the press conference with the President and the prime minister, and I just want to say that I heard one of the most exquisite, articulate, powerful arguments for the TPP from the prime minister – an argument which literally drew on American history, on Smoot-Hawley, on tariffs, on the things we have tried and what it brought about – namely, a depression. And the prime minister said if you turn in the wrong direction, it may take years to get back from it, and it will be at great cost to the world.

So Mr. Prime Minister, that is what we have come to expect from the prime minister of Singapore; it’s what we expect from you personally. It’s what we’re privileged to get. And so I drink a toast to you on the journey traveled between our countries, on the journey yet to be traveled, on the mutual respect and great, great friendship between our countries. Thank you. Cheers.


And now it is my privilege to introduce my great friend and the great Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)

(Vice President Biden delivers remarks.)


PRIME MINISTER LEE: Vice President Joe Biden, Mrs. Biden, Secretary Kerry, I thank the Vice President and the Secretary for hosting us to lunch and also for your very warm remarks just now. I have had more than my say this morning at the welcome ceremony and at the press conference, so I won’t bore those of you who were there this morning repeating myself.

I’d like to say we have a long and deep relationship between Singapore and America. It’s a friendship; it’s a partnership; it’s a cooperation, based not just on interests but also values, strategic perspectives, and ideals, which are shared in large measure and which provide the basis for us to work together for many years to come.

It’s also a relationship which is, as the Vice President says, ultimately about people, people who know one another, people who understand one another, are on the same wavelength. You don’t always agree; you have different perspectives. But we can talk to each other, and I can see why you think like that, and I hope you can see why I think like that too.

And it’s – I may be – I mean, I’ve been visiting America for many years, but many Singaporeans have visited America. There are thousands here at any time, and there are thousands more Americans who are in Singapore at any time. And all over America, in every state, almost every city, you will find Singaporeans who are here studying, working, living, maybe married here – flying our flag, but we are present, little red spots all over the U.S., helping that integration and that mutual understanding.

I first came to the U.S., visited it, in 1974. I had spent three years in England. In those days, America seemed a long way away. But I came here, and it was something of a culture shock, because from Cambridge, England I came to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Laughter.) It was in the middle of summer. The temperatures were 105 degrees on certain days, and I survived three months of that in an artillery school, which is still there and where our soldiers still go and – still go and train and exercise in very ambitious exercises now, which 40 years ago were unimaginable either for America or for Singapore.

After Oklahoma, I went and spent three weeks in Los Angeles. It was with a company called Litton Industries. I’m not sure it still exists, but it was a defense industry. And you get a sense of the West coast, California, which is a law unto itself and different from the rest of America – full of vibrancy, oriented towards the Pacific, and if it were an economy it would be a big country in the world – even as it is, is a big partner for us and a big source of our investments.

A few years later, I came back and spent time in America again, another place, which most of you will probably not have visited – Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (Laughter.) It’s one of the best places in America, I assure you – and not just because the penitentiaries are there. (Laughter.) But because it’s where you’ve got your Staff Core College for the Army and you bring together every year at that time about a hundred allied and friendly officers from other countries. And they come, they study together, they get to know one another; they understand how you work. You hope you will learn to be able to interoperate with them, especially the NATO forces but also your friends elsewhere, and anyway you establish friends whom you keep for a very long time. And in my case I was very lucky; I had military sponsors whom I’ve kept in touch with, Frank and Mary McGurk, and they are still here, and here they are this afternoon. (Applause.) Forty years, almost 40 years later.

After Fort Leavenworth, I suppose – I’m not sure if you’d call it a reprieve, but I went to Massachusetts. (Laughter.) And that’s --

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a reprieve. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER LEE: It’s the East coast. The rest of America will think, well, that’s not representative of America either, but you get to understand not only how the universities work but also how the universities link up with the government, with the think tanks, and there’s a constant flow of ideas, of people, of possibilities. And therefore, you renew your intellectual batteries and you are able to harness your universities and your academics, some of your brightest minds, on practical, real problems of the world. I spent a year at the Kennedy School. It was – Leavenworth said it was the best year of your life. In America, Boston was not bad either.

So that was my initial sampler, but since then, over the years, I have been all over. And each time I visit a new city. You find there people who are different because America is diverse, people who are working hard in their own way, overcoming their own problems, people who are open, welcome, friendly, who embrace you and make you feel at home. And it’s unique and it’s only in America.

So today, to be here today and have this chance to talk to all of you, I am very grateful and very moved. And I’d like to thank especially the Vice President for introducing me. He was in Singapore three years ago, visited us. He visited our naval base where one of the littoral combat ships was, the USS Freedom. It was first one to be deployed to Singapore. I think they’ve rotated now, but right now there are two LCSs in Singapore, and eventually there will be four of them.

And it’s Singapore’s contribution to help America to be engaged in the region, to help contribute to the security and the stability of the region, and it helps our security and stability in Southeast Asia and in Singapore too. The Vice President has made a strong case for the TPP, as has the President. And I know that he’s past master at securing votes on the Hill for difficult problems like this – (laughter) – and I look forward to his deploying all his powers and getting the TPP ratified very soon.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: You’re coming back to help, right? (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER LEE‎: And we will do all we can to help, whether in Singapore or in America. Also happy to see Senator Kerry again – or Secretary Kerry now, who last visited us just in August last year. Last time I saw him he was, I think, still in crutches, but I’m glad he’s healed and I suspect he’s cycling again. (Laughter.) And he has made many trips to Asia, added substance to the rebalance, attended many ASEAN meetings, and also opened a permanent mission to ASEAN – the first by a non-ASEAN member.

So I hope that the U.S. will continue its rebalancing and its active engagement in the region. It is something which many, many countries in the region support and hope will strengthen. They don’t all express it in the same way. Some of them find it more implicit than others. Singapore has nailed our colors to the mast and we have stated our position unambiguously for many years. It’s a good thing; it needs to continue. It’s good not just for the region, where millions of souls depend upon it, but it benefits the United States tremendously, because you’re securing peace and stability in the Asia Pacific which otherwise could be a very troublesome part of the world for you.

So finally, I’d like to pay tribute and thank the many U.S. ambassadors and diplomats who have served in Singapore and those who are here today as well as those who are not here today. They have played an important role, fostering the good relations between our two countries. Many of you have remained good friends and engaged long after your tour of duty. And your presence today testifies to the depth of the friendship between our two countries, not only the governments but also the peoples.

So may I now invite you to offer a toast: To the enduring friendship between Singapore and the United States and to wish that it will continue to strengthen and flourish for many years to come.