SINGAPORE -- Government officials expressed chagrin today over the U.S. State Department's ouster of a Singapore diplomat but said they wanted to put the row with their No. 1 trading partner behind them.
The softened stance emerged as members of the American Business Council expressed indignation over the accusations that the United States was meddling in Singapore's domestic politics.
The ouster of Robert Chua as first secretary of the Singapore Embassy in Washington is a 'face-saving means of retaliating,' said Yatiman Yusof, parliamentary secretary of foreign affairs.
The State Department sought Chua's removal in retaliation for the expulsion of E. Mason Hendrickson, the first secretary of the American Embassy in Singapore accused of urging dissident lawyers to run for office against the ruling Peoples Action Party.
An official government statement said Singapore 'agrees to it with deep regret.'
The statement said the government shared with the United States 'the desire to put this unfortunate matter behind us.'
Yatiman was also conciliatory, but warned, 'All countries should take note of the fact that the Singapore political system and future is a matter for only Singaporeans to decide.'
'We don't believe the stability of Singapore's business climate has been adversely shaken, unless something drastic happens,' said Joyce Rasmussen, executive director of the American Business Council.
She noted however that prospective investors considering the island republic as a potential manufacturing site 'may have been discouraged.'
'I've been besieged by callers expressing their indignation and anger,' Rasmussen said, 'but most realize the developments were political, not economic. Basically its business as usual.'
Since Singapore's announcement Saturday that Hendrickson had been interfering in the country's internal affairs, ministers have unleashed a torrent of verbal abuse at the United States, their longtime ally.
Officials said they learned that Hendrickson was encouraging anti-government attorneys to run for elective office from Patrick Seong, one of 11 people arrested since April 19 and held under the country's Internal Security Act providing for indefinite detention without trial.
Eight were rearrested after claiming they were tortured by government interrogators into confessing to a Marxist conspiracy last year.
Ministers charged the United States was trying to turn Singapore into a Western-style democracy with a free press. One said Hendrickson wanted to cultivate a group of potential opposition lawmakers to help the United States prevent Singapore from 'falling into the wrong hands.'
The State Department, denying Hendrickson had done anything improper, responded with Chua's eviction.
The Foreign Ministry today also summoned Australian High Commissioner Rosaleen McGovern and accused Australia of interfering in Singapore's domestic affairs by expressing concern over a rash of detentions without trials.
Finance Minister Richard Hu said he hoped the spate of incidents will not dampen Singapore's attractiveness to American investors.
'I think U.S. businessmen are quite used to what their politicians do,' he said. 'They look at the country as a whole and not at one incident. They are experienced enough not to let this affect U.S. investments in Singapore.'
Of Singapore's $30 billion total in exports last year, one quarter went to the United States.