Singapore minister urges U.S. focus on strategic interest in Asia

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (Reuters) - The United States should focus on larger strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, including expanding trade ties, the defense minister of Singapore said on Saturday, when asked about the controversy sparked by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan.

Ng Eng Hen said it was not Singapore’s place to comment on Trump’s phone calls, but welcomed comments by his aides reaffirming Trump’s support for the longstanding U.S. “one China” policy, a policy also supported by Singapore.

China lodged a diplomatic protest on Saturday after Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan.

Trump’s 10-minute telephone call with the Taiwanese leader was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”.

The Singaporean official told the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern California that the bigger issue was how the United States would shape its role in the Asia-Pacific region in coming years, given China’s rapid rise.

“We ought to have the larger strategic interests in mind,” Ng said.

He said the U.S. role in Asia should be multidimensional, including trade and commercial ties, not just focused on security issues, and the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement would have been a “concrete, tangible commitment” to do just that.

Trump has already ruled out U.S. participation in TPP.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alistair Bell