Bush greeted by ‘quiet reception’ in Singapore

SINGAPORE: After agreeing with Pacific Rim leaders to crack down on terror and revive world trade talks, US President George W. Bush took the message to Singapore yesterday – but he will largely be preaching to the converted. 

On the fourth stop of a six-nation Asian tour anchored to a regional summit in Thailand, the US leader will probably praise Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for signing Washington's first free trade pact in Asia and for unwavering support in the Iraq war. 

Singapore is the region's poster boy for two-way free trade agreements, signing five in three years and thrusting Goh into a key, influential role among South-East Asian leaders at a recent summit in Bali. 

Bush will probably urge Goh to use Singapore's prosperity and US$89bil (RM338bil) economy as a stabilising influence on neighbours such as Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. 

Singapore, however, is already well down that path after investing heavily in Indonesian banks and telecoms firms since a financial crisis rocked the region in 1997/98.  

Its investment arm, Temasek Holdings, recently wrapped up a deal to take 47% of Indonesia's fifth-largest bank, Danamon. 

Flying from Bangkok where, counter-terrorism was high on the agenda of Asia-Pacific leaders, Bush is set to become the second US president to visit Singapore, following in the footsteps of his father, George Bush, who spent three days here in 1992. 

Police barricades and checkpoints surrounded the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel for his 15-hour sleepover. A formal dinner with top government leaders was scheduled at the 134-year-old Istana.  

But unlike Bush's first three stopovers in Tokyo, Manila and Bangkok, there is no chance of noisy street protests erupting in Singapore thanks to restrictions on public demonstrations rigidly enforced by a semi-authoritarian government. 

Police and soldiers patrolled streets surrounding Paya Lebar military airport where Air Force One landed at around 5.30pm. Several major roads were closed for his motorcade. 

Ties between the two have strengthened during the Bush administration, and the US leader is expected to praise Goh for foiling plots by Islamic radicals to blow up the US embassy and other American interests in 2001 and 2002. After Singapore, Bush visits Indonesia and Australia. – Reuters  

For another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network, click here.

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