- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Singapore’s envoy to Washington urged President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday to make stabilizing the U.S. economy his first priority after taking office, because the effects of the financial crisis have now spread to all parts of the world.

Although Ambassador Chan Heng Chee said that Asia “would like more attention from the new administration,” she added that it is not realistic to expect Mr. Obama to dedicate too much time to it right away.

“The new president will have a profound financial crisis to deal with [and] two wars,” Mrs. Chan told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “If the United States doesn’t come out of this crisis, it impacts on all of us. If you don’t show improvement, we’ll perhaps stay in the doldrums.”

Still, she called on Washington to “maintain leadership in world affairs” and put Asia “fairly high on the agenda.”

“The United States has strong equities in the region,” she said. “You want to be part of the changes” taking place with the rise of China and India.

While the economic crisis is affecting Asia “because America is the final market for many of our products,” Mrs. Chan pointed out that “the banking crisis hasn’t been severely felt.” Asian countries instituted stricter oversight measures in the financial sector after the 1997 crisis there, she said.

Singapore, a city-state and one of the greatest economic success stories of the 20th century, is now in recession, with negative growth during the last two quarters, the ambassador said. The 2008 growth projection of about 7 percent at the beginning of the year has been revised to about 2 percent, she added.

Mrs. Chan, one of the longest-serving ambassadors to Washington after 12 years, also said that economic issues should become an integral part of foreign policy and diplomacy.

“During the [Bill] Clinton presidency, economic policy was very much in the fore, and economic policy was part of diplomacy,” she said. “Even though under President Bush they seem to be divided, they are both carried out.”

She warned against attempts by Washington to renegotiate free-trade agreements under pressure from trade unions, which claim to have helped Mr. Obama win the presidency. During the Democratic primaries, “there were some messages that sounded protectionist to us,” she said.

“We have some discomfort with the idea of reopening free-trade agreements. We hope it will not happen,” she added.

Mrs. Chan, whose grandparents came from southern China, expressed admiration for Chinese diplomacy in the last decade and said that Asian countries do not share Washington’s concern about a potential threat from Beijing.

On Monday, Singapore and China signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation on aviation security. It was one of a series of accords negotiated in recent years between the two countries, which also finalized a free-trade agreement last month.

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