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TPP vital to US' continued involvement in Asia: Singapore PM

SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON -- The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a vital component of the United States' continued involvement in a rapidly shifting Asia, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday.

In a dialogue hosted by U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations, Lee reiterated the importance of the wide-ranging preferential trade pact in underpinning America's rebalancing toward Asia, which U.S. President Barack Obama has made a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

'China is growing, developing, becoming more influential'

Asia “is changing, China is growing, developing, becoming more influential and will become more so by the day,” Lee told a 145-strong audience of diplomats, academics and journalists. “It is a region where things are moving and which America is part of and has to engage in actively.”

Even as the U.S. currently grapples with foreign policy issues elsewhere — including unfolding crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine — Lee said he hoped the TPP, a “serious measure which shows the seriousness” of America's engagement with Asia, remains on the U.S. agenda.

“You have many other issues on your agenda — Iraq preoccupies you, so does Iran, so does Syria, so does Eastern Europe and Ukraine,” Lee said at the dialogue.

“But we hope amidst all that ... you remember at least once a day that in Asia you have many friends, many interests and many investments,” he added. “We hope to deepen that relationship.”

Lee also met with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on Tuesday, where they discussed global energy trends and developments as well as ways to strengthen bilateral energy cooperation, including addressing climate change.

Might not Right in Territorial Disputes: Singapore

Singapore's prime minister said Tuesday international law should determine how territorial disputes in the South China Sea are resolved, rather than the notion that “might is right.”

Prime Minister Lee was responding to a question about China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Lee noted that China says its claims have a historical basis that predates international law.

“I'm not a lawyer so I presume there's some plausibility in that argument,” Lee said, “but from the point of view of a country which must survive in the international system where there are big countries and small, outcomes cannot be determined just by might is right.

“I think international law must have a big weight in how disputes are resolved,” Lee said, also praising for the U.S. generally following such principles.

Lee added that the Chinese have seen other great powers during history that have tried to rise by “might” only to rise and then fall. He said the Chinese “are trying not to make the same mistake.”

The United States has been critical of what it considers provocative Chinese actions to assert its territorial claims, most recently by positioning an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam. China has also had standoffs at sea with U.S. ally the Philippines.

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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at an event hosted by U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Tuesday, June 24. (CNA)

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