PM Lee meets New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, discusses China & Russia

Both leaders also spoke about the role of the U.S. in the region.

Matthias Ang | April 19, 2022, 05:56 PM

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A joint press conference by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was held on Apr. 19.

Ardern is in Singapore as part of a trade mission and arrived at the Istana to meet with PM Lee and President Halimah Yacob.

Speaking at the joint press conference, both PM Lee and Ardern reaffirmed the bilaterial relations between both countries with Ardern calling Singapore a "very close friend," CNA reported.

The two leaders also addressed questions regarding engagement with China and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Discussed China and its position on the Ukraine invasion

As for China and Russia, PM Lee said that he had discussed the matter with Ardern and that both countries are watching the situation in Ukraine and how it will impact relations between China and Russia and, therefore, between China and the U.S.

He added, "We both have a vested interest in China-U.S. relations being stable and not being complicated or further sharpened in terms of the hostility or lack of trust on both sides. And we hope that wisdom will prevail and Ukraine will not make things more complicated."

A similar position was voiced by Ardern, who said that on the matter of engaging China over the war and conflict in Ukraine, New Zealand had been constantly sending the same message: that what is happening in Ukraine is an assault on a country's sovereignty and their territorial integrity.

She added:

"You will find countries like China referencing that (the Ukraine conflict) and raising that as an issue. And so we continue to encourage, at every level, China to continue to acknowledge what the Ukraine conflict represents for the world."

What about the U.S. joining the CPTPP?

In response to a question about what Singapore is prepared to compromise to get the U.S. to rejoin the CPTPP, PM Lee replied that he did not think the U.S. was asking Singapore to make any compromises.

He said, "We would dearly love to see them come back. But they have told us quite clearly it's nothing to do with us. It's just off the table because their politics does not make it possible at present."

In the meantime, the U.S. still wishes to remain engaged with the Asia-Pacific region through whatever means that are politically feasible but will also demonstrate their continuing commitment to the Asia-Pacific and their stake here, he added.

The U.S. has been talking about the idea of an Indo-Pacific economic framework, he noted.

"And we have said, 'Well, we support that," because we believe it is good for you (the U.S.) to continue to be present in this region and we hope that we will be able to put as much substance as possible on that Indo-Pacific economic framework," PM Lee added.

As for Ardern, she said that an existing agreement and framework already exists in the form of the CPTPP, which New Zealand and other countries had worked "very hard" to negotiate.

Ardern also acknowledged Singapore as one of the " early architects" of the agreement.

As for the U.S., Ardern also echoed PM Lee by stating that domestic considerations of the U.S. mean the CPTPP is not the most realistic option for the country.

Ardern clarified however:

"That does not mean there is no option and it's our job to make sure that we are continuing to engage and offering up those opportunities where the U.S. can demonstrate an engagement in the economic architecture and the economic well-being of this region and we will continue to work together quite hard on that."

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Top screenshot form Prime Minister's Office YouTube