Singapore’s ambassador to the United States told BYU students they should “adjust their maps” so the Pacific Ocean, rather than the Atlantic, is in the center.
“Pacific relationships are going to be quite critical for the U.S. and for all of you as you develop your futures,” Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri told students at the Kennedy Center on Oct. 15.
Mirpuri came to BYU to speak about the United States’ evolving role in Singapore and in all of Asia. He said Singapore and the United States have enjoyed positive economic, security and trade relations since Singapore gained independence in 1965.
Singapore is so small that it is sometimes referred to as “the little red dot” by other Asian countries because of its size on the map. To put it in perspective, Singapore is roughly a sixth of the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Although small, the country of five million people has gone from being a third-world to first-world country in the past fifty years.
When Singapore became independent from Malaysia, it had no resources of its own, Mirpuri said. The country had to import all of its energy and most of its food and water. It also had a high unemployment rate and no domestic industries.
“What Singapore did,” Mirpuri said, “was try to attract global multinationals to come and invest in Singapore.”
Many American companies were drawn to the tiny nation, first because of the low labor costs. Those companies stayed because their position allowed them to reach out to the rest of the Southeast Asian region.
He said Singapore is an ideal base for regional expansion because it has a rule of law, intellectual property protection, and the right economic ecosystem for companies to expand. Officials there also set up institutes to help foreign companies convert their products to make them more relevant to Asian consumers.
“Today there are more U.S. investments in Singapore than there are in India and China combined,” Mirpuri said. “One of our most important relationships over the past fifty years has been with the United States.”
Mirpuri said Singapore and the United States are also important security partners. Singapore has opened its military facilities for the United States to use, and in return Singapore uses military facilities in the United States.
Singapore has built up its naval facilities to accommodate the U.S. Navy, which uses the nation as a base of operations within the whole region.
“Every time there is a humanitarian disaster,” Mirpuri said, “the U.S. is able to use the facilities that we allow them in Singapore to be able to reach out.”
Singapore has also joined with the United States on a variety of efforts that they see as global issues such as Islamic terrorism. Singapore is a member of the United States-led anti-Islamic State Coalition and has assisted with U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We hope to keep building on this relationship even as new challenges emerge,” Mirpuri said.
Free trade relations
Another key aspect of U.S.-Singapore relations is the free trade agreement the two countries have enjoyed since 2004.
Mirpuri said the two countries have used their agreement as a platform to build wider Asia Pacific relationships, citing as an example the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that was completed last week.
Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S., Singapore, and 10 other Pacific Rim nations agree to new terms for trade and business with each other.
Mirpuri said the newly completed agreement deals with issues such as intellectual property and transparency laws. He said details will be released to the public soon, and the agreement will go to Congress for ratification.
Relations between Singapore and the United States have been strong, and Mirpuri said he is hopeful for the future. “There’s so much that we do together, but even more that we look forward to be able to do,” he said.
He plans to continue to engage with the U.S. government on all levels, and, as he puts it, “see the U.S. outside the beltway.” Mirpuri told students they will want to be involved and see what opportunities are available to them in the Asia Pacific region. America’s commitment to the Asia Pacific region will help guarantee U.S. security and economic stability there, he said.
“As a global superpower, the world looks to the U.S. to be able to play that role,” Mirpuri said. “And as a little red dot that’s a very good friend of a global superpower, we will be by your side trying to work through some of this.”