U.S. President Joe Biden plans to discuss Russia’s attack of Ukraine and China’s role in the Indo-Pacific with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore at the White House on Tuesday, a senior administration official said.
Lee, who will later meet with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, will join Biden in an Oval Office meeting before the leaders make a joint statement, the White House said.
Speaking on a briefing call, the official, who declined to be identified, said the United States was very pleased with Singapore’s decision to impose sanctions and export controls on Russia.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says are not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
“We are very happy with what Singapore has done and I think that the key is going to be to continue looking for ways in which we can expand our cooperation on this and other issues,” the official said.
Biden had been due to host leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Singapore is a member, this week, but the summit was postponed because not all leaders could attend on the March 28 and 29 dates announced by the White House.
The official reiterated that the White House is working to reschedule the event. “We believe the clock is ticking and we want to try and get this done,” the official said, noting there would be “announcements” during Lee’s visit while declining to offer details.
Lee’s trip comes after Vice President Harris, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited Singapore last year. Biden last spoke with Lee on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Rome.
Singapore is a key financial and trading center and has been keen to hear details of U.S. plans for an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in a region Washington says remains a key priority despite the Ukraine crisis.
The Biden administration announced an Indo-Pacific strategy in February in which it vowed to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the region to counter what it sees as China’s bid to create a regional sphere of influence.
The document reiterated plans to launch the IPEF early this year, but few details have emerged, and the administration has been reluctant to offer the increased market access Asian countries desire, seeing this as threatening American jobs.
On Monday, the official said the framework is expected to come up in discussions during Lee’s visit, but offered little detail. When asked about market access, the official said the Biden administration was “looking for ways that can be done using existing frameworks rather than new market access.”
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