ASEAN-US summit shows US ‘values partnership’ with Southeast Asia: PM Lee

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Mr Biden also announced on Friday that he would nominate his chief of staff and executive secretary at the National Security Council Yohannes Abraham to serve as ambassador to ASEAN.

ASEAN has not had a US ambassador since January 2017.

On Friday, Mr Lee also met Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry for a bilateral meeting, and attended a working lunch hosted by Ms Harris focused on maritime cooperation and pandemic recovery.

RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE

Mr Lee responded to questions from journalists about the ASEAN leaders’ engagement with Mr Biden on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While ASEAN has taken a stand and issued a statement “as a whole”, the statement is “not as strong as it could be” because different countries have different views, he said.

For example, when the UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, Vietnam and Laos abstained, while the other countries voted for it, Mr Lee noted. Singapore also abstained from the vote.

“If you look at the national statements and the national actions, I think Singapore’s is the most forthright statement, which we issued and we also had some targeted sanctions on Russia,” he said, adding that Cambodia also took a strong stance on the issue.

“I think Prime Minister Hun Sen was quite unambiguous and emphatic in his explanation of his position that there must be absolute rules against violating territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence of other countries. Otherwise, where do small countries stand?” said Mr Lee.

CABINET CHANGES MAY COME NEXT MONTH

The Prime Minister also told journalists he may make changes to the Cabinet in early June.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on whether there were any updates on Cabinet movements and succession plans, about a month after Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was chosen as the leader of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) fourth-generation, or 4G, leadership team.

The announcement, made on Apr 14 in Singapore, paves the way for Mr Wong to become Singapore’s next Prime Minister. He was the first choice by an “overwhelming majority”, said retired minister Khaw Boon Wan at the time.

“I’ve had to focus on this trip and I have another trip coming up in two weeks’ time going to the Nikkei conference (in Japan),” Mr Lee said. “But I’m working at it. I hope I shall be able to do it once I’m done with my trips, which means early June.”

At a press conference after Mr Wong was named as the 4G leader in April, Mr Lee had said that whether he or Mr Wong would lead the PAP in the next election was a decision that would be made later.

“I will discuss with Lawrence, and we will decide later what the best strategy is for us to fight the next general election,” the Prime Minister told reporters at the time, adding that it will depend on “how things evolve”. 

The next General Election must be held by 2025.