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US, Singapore take softer stance on South China Sea

President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrive for a joint statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Washington. AP/Evan Vucci

MANILA, Philippines — Unlike last year under the Obama administration, the joint statement between the US and Singapore has taken a softer stance on the disputed South China Sea by not mentioning China's move to build artificial islands and establish military outposts.

This year, US President Donald Trump and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed their "unwavering commitment" to promoting freedom of navigation in the contested waters.

Last year, Lee and then US President Barack Obama urged all parties in the disputed waters to avoid actions that would escalate tensions in the regions.

The joint statement between the US and Singapore this year only mentioned "promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea."

READ: US, Singapore discourage militarization in South China Sea

Following their meeting at the White House on Monday, the two leaders also expressed concerns over the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula.

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On the other hand, Singaporean leader condemned North Korea's "dangerous provocations" which "pose a serious threat to regional and international peace and stability."

"President Trump and I naturally discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We strongly oppose the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as it affects the peace and stability of the region," Lee said.

Lee further noted that there is no quick and easy solution to address North Korea's provocative actions.

"Pressure is necessary but so is dialogue," Lee said, adding that the US would need to work with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to resolve the issue.

"Throughout Southeast Asia, the United States and Singapore are currently working to enhance the capacity of law enforcement, fight terrorism, and bolster cyber defenses," Trump said.

Trump noted that Singapore was the first Southeast Asian nation that joined the coalition to defeat ISIS.

The US and Singapore have been partners for over the last 51 years.

"It's a deep and wide relationship with substantial cooperation in economic, defense, and security spheres.  And we also discussed what more we could do to take it forward," Lee said.

More than 1,000 Singaporean troops train in the US every year, according to Trump.

Trump and Lee are set to meet again as both heads of state will attend the US-ASEAN Summit in Manila next month.

"I look forward to continuing our discussions at this year’s summit and to seeing the great things Singapore will accomplish as ASEAN chair in 2018," Trump said.

Meanwhile, Lee said that Trump's presence in Asia will mean a lot to Washington's friends and allies in the region.

"It will open doors and develop markets for U.S. exporters and investors," Lee said.

RELATED: South China Sea: US more determined to conduct FONOPs

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