Australia welcomes Singapore pact as boost for 'deep friendship'

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen (right) speaking to the Singapore troops during his visit at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.
Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen (right) speaking to the Singapore troops during his visit at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

SYDNEY - Australia has welcomed a landmark deal to expand ties with Singapore, saying it will "lock in" a deeper friendship and lead to greater trade, investment and defence co-operation.

The deal, announced on Friday (May 6), has received widespread coverage in Australia and even prompted suggestions that Canberra's close ties to Singapore will be elevated to the same level as its relationship with New Zealand, its neighbour and one of its closest allies.

Australia's Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, welcomed the pact, trumpeting Singapore's investment in defence facilities in northern Australia as a win for the state of Queensland.

 
 

"It is a very, very significant commitment to investment in north Queensland," he said.

An Australian MP who helped to forge the deal, Mr Andrew Robb, the former trade minister, said that the expanded economic and defence ties will "lock in a deep friendship in a most powerful way".

"It takes our relationship to a whole other level, and in the region [IT IS]comparable to our very, very close relationship with New Zealand," Mr Robb told Fairfax Media.

"It will lead to significantly more linkages and business across so many different sectors. It's going to lead to immediate multi-billion investments in northern Australia."

The Trade Minister, Steven Ciobo, said the deal was a "logical extension" of Australia's close long-term ties to Singapore.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anybody that a small city-state like Singapore, for example, looks throughout the region to where they're able to mobilise forces, to where they're able to build experienced capacity and training," he said.

Australia's James Cook University welcomed the announcement made as part of the pact that its Singapore campus has achieved "university" status. It is the only Australian institution in Singapore to be recognised with such status.

"This enables us to say to prospective students and staff, communities, and governments, that we are one university in two countries with three tropical campuses," said Professor Sandra Harding, the university's Vice Chancellor.

 
 

Analysts said the deal came against the backdrop of China's rise and the growing potential for regional turbulence.

"The context is in large part the rise of China, but it's not just about China," Professor Rory Medcalf, from the Australian National University, told Fairfax Media.

"Singapore is famously pragmatic and recognises the need for smaller and middle powers to work together on security, because of uncertainties about Indo-Pacific power balance more generally, including the future United States posture."

A Lowy Institute expert on international security, Dr Euan Graham, who has authored a forthcoming report on the Australia-Singapore security partnership, told The Straits Times that Singapore was possibly the only state in the region that "sees an equal or greater strategic value to the relationship".

"Singapore and Australia are both 'odd men out' in the region, albeit in different ways, and thus feel insecure in their strategic environments," he said. 

"They have encountered similar limits and frustrations in their efforts to build enduring partnerships in South-east Asia. While Australia and Singapore do not have identical threat perceptions, they share a 'common strategic outlook', on concerns from Islamist terrorism and cyber vulnerability, to managing great power competition in Asia."