Washington - Singapore's prime minister on Tuesday becomes the third Asian leader to visit the White House this year, as President Barack Obama pursues closer ties with countries in the region in his second term.
It will be Lee Hsien Loong's first Oval Office meeting in six years and comes as the US pushes for completion by the fall of a trans-Pacific free trade pact. Singapore, a close ally, is one of 11 countries taking part in the negotiations.
The US and Singapore also have strong defence ties. Next week, the US will begin rotational deployments of Navy vessels in Singapore, part of its efforts to shift American military presence toward the Asia-Pacific as the US disentangles itself from a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense cuts at home and turmoil in the Middle East have raised doubts in Asia about the United States' ability to sustain its "pivot" to the region. But Obama made his diplomatic priorities clear by travelling to Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand soon after his November re-election, and then by hosting the leaders of Japan and Brunei.
South Korea's new president will visit in May.
"The prime minister's visit underscores the strategic importance the president places on Asia and the value we place on our relationship with Singapore as a key partner," a White House statement announcing Lee's trip said.
Lee is the eldest son of Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. He last visited the US for a nuclear security summit in 2010. He'll address the US Chamber of Commerce, an influential business lobbying group, after his White House meeting.
While much attention is currently on Northeast Asia, and North Korea's threats to attack the US and South Korea, Lee's four-day visit also takes place against the backdrop of tensions in the South China Sea, where assertive Chinese actions near disputed islands have unnerved other claimants in Southeast Asia.
Singapore itself is not a claimant, but its prosperity depends on commerce through those busy waters. It is a strong supporter of the US security presence in the region, although it retains cordial ties with China.
During his visit, Lee is also meeting with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry. He'll also travel to New York City and meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.