US to appoint treasury attache in S-E Asia

Move to raise US profile in region; rep likely to be based in S’pore.

IN YET another step aimed at raising its profile in the region, the Bush administration is appointing a financial representative in South-east Asia, who will most likely be based in Singapore.

US Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt disclosed this when he attended a reception here to mark the Republic’s National Day. “We are looking at Singapore as a possible destination,” he told The Straits Times.

Mr Kimmitt said that financial representatives, of which there are now four, have to deal with issues to do with central banks and finance ministries. In the post-9/11 world, they are also expected to liaise with justice and security agencies.

“The plan is to have 18 treasury attaches in key regions of the world by the end of next year,” he said.

The US now has such attaches in Beijing, Tokyo, Brussels and Baghdad. Ms Susan Baker, who is a senior official with the Treasury Department and has wide experience in South-east Asia, is slated to be the new attache. She said that she would be taking up her new post by December.

Ms Baker, 37, said that Singapore would be a logical choice as a base because it is a global centre for capital markets.

She added that she would travel regularly throughout the region, especially to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

This move should be seen as the latest attempt by Washington to step up its engagement with South-east Asia amid criticism that it has tended to focus too much on counter-terrorism.

There are now plans to appoint a US Ambassador to Asean.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has already introduced legislation for the post.

At the same time, the Office of the US Trade Representative is looking into the possibility of a US-Asean Trade and Investment Agreement, a move that would further expand burgeoning economic ties with the region.

In a speech at the National Day function, which was attended by some 500 guests at the Willard Inter Continental Hotel, Mr Kimmitt spoke about US Singapore relations in glowing terms.

He noted that the free trade agreement that was signed between both countries in 2003 was an “international example of a high-quality FTA”. Investment was also a cornerstone of this economic relationship.

Singapore owned and operated businesses in the US that provided jobs for American workers. At the same time, many US firms operated profitably in Singapore.

Mr Kimmitt said US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would be travelling to Singapore next month for the World Bank and IMF meetings – an event that would “reflect the reality of Asia’s increased importance in the global economy”.

He reserved special praise for Prof Chan Heng Chee, Singapore’s Ambassador to the US. He said that “no one personifies our countries’ friendship better” than Prof Chan who is one of the longest-serving diplomats in Washington.

“Our bilateral relationship with Singapore and our engagement with Asia are more important than ever,” said Mr Kimmitt.

“As China, India and other economies grow, the United States can and will continue to serve as a force for stability and growth in Asia. We can be assured that in that endeavour, as for the past 41 years, we will have no more valued partner than Singapore.”

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