MELBOURNE, Australia (NEWSnet/AP) — Taylor Swift was the top conversation Tuesday at an international summit when Singapore’s leader was asked to defend his country’s exclusive concert tour deal with the pop star.

Singapore is a key member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation bloc known as ASEAN. Its three-day summit was expected to focus on member Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis and conflicts in the South China Sea.

But on the sidelines, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was grilled about a lucrative and exclusive deal his city-state struck with Swift that prevents the singer from taking her Eras Tour to any other location in Southeast Asia.

Swift is performing six concerts from March 2 to 9 in Singapore. Her Eras Tour shattered records when it reportedly surpassed $1 billion last year, and her film adaptation of the tour quickly took No. 1 at the box office and became the highest-grossing concert film to date.

And some Southeast Asian neighbors complain that the Singapore deal deprives them of the tourism boost her concerts might bring to them.

The Singaporean leader confirmed Tuesday that Swift was provided with “certain incentives” in exchange for making Singapore her only Southeast Asian destination on her Eras Tour. Lee defended the deal at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a self-professed Swiftie whose Spotify Wrapped list boasted Taylor Swift as his second most streamed artist of 2023.

Albanese is hosting the summit in Melbourne, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Australia becoming ASEAN’s first external partner.

Lee did not reveal the cost of the exclusive deal, which was paid for from a government fund established to rebuild tourism after COVID-19 disruptions. He also did not directly answer when asked if he had encountered bad blood among other leaders due to the deal, instead suggesting that if Singapore hadn’t struck an exclusive deal, a neighboring country might have done so.

“It has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly,“ Lee said.

Thailand’s Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, brought attention to the deal in February with a public claim that a promoter told him the Singaporean government subsidized the concerts with around $2 million to $3 million per show with a condition that the artist not play anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Srettha said that if he had known about the deal before, he was confident he would be able to pull off something similar.

But Thailand doesn’t hold it against Singapore, said Prommin Lertsuridej, the Secretary-General of the Prime Minister.

He told reporters in a group interview Monday that Thailand took what Singapore did as an example, and while Thailand already has some laws in place to allow such incentive packages, the government is working to remove red tape and make Thailand a more attractive venue for international events.

“We learn from each other,” Prommin said, adding that he admired Singapore for being able to come up with and achieve this “good business idea.”

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