Singapore takes over chairmanship of Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting

The 11th Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Defence Ministers at the Clark freeport in the north of Manila on Oct 24, 2017.
The 11th Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Defence Ministers at the Clark freeport in the north of Manila on Oct 24, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Singapore assumed the chairmanship of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) on Tuesday (Oct 24), and will focus on pushing regional efforts to combat emerging threats from violent extremism, and to keep peace and stability in the region.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence on the sidelines of the ADMM at the Clark freeport in the north of Manila, said Singapore will focus on three "key thrusts".

Singapore will promote "regional counter-terrorism collaboration", “grow collective capability for chemical, biological and radiological threats”, and "promulgate the use of practical confidence-building measures in the aviation and maritime domains".

“The first thing on top of everybody's mind is terrorism, and for good reason. Marawi was a wake-up call to all Asean countries and a grim warning that the devastation that we see in Iraq and Syria can very well happen in Asean countries,” he said.

He added: “So I said that one of our focuses would be on terrorism, and we are going to hold special sessions on terrorism in the highest levels of leadership.”

He said Singapore will also encourage information sharing in terms of how individual countries can deal with chemical, nuclear and radiation attacks, in view of instability in the Korean peninsula.

Dr Ng also said Singapore "will also push for confidence-building measures” that would “build understanding, if not trust.”

South-east Asia's defence ministers on Monday sought to map out an "enhanced" regional response amid evolving threats from Islamist extremists.

In a joint statement issued on the opening day of their annual meeting, the ministers pledged to work together to "identify ways to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation among Asean defence establishments".

They agreed to share more information on terrorist networks across Asia, step up surveillance of militant groups, and promote public awareness about the threat of radicalism.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of Defence said the ministers "highlighted the need for Asean to respond collectively given that terrorism is a problem that no country can single-handedly manage".

The defence ministers also "reaffirmed the importance of regional counter-terrorism initiatives", as the joint maritime and air patrols of terrorist-plagued waters off the Sulu archipelago in Mindanao and Sabah initiated by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, the ministry said.

Singapore, in particular, said it will "step-up counter-terrorism collaboration between the Asean defence establishments" during its chairmanship of the ADMM.

In bilateral talks on Monday, Dr Ng and his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquian, also discussed "further practical initiatives to advance Asean-China relations".

“This includes planning for conduct of an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

China proposed such an exercise last year, at the China-Asean Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. It aims to build mutual trust between China and the regional grouping, of which several members have competing claims with Beijing in the South China Sea.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, Dr Ng mentioned the Asean-China maritime exercise as one of three "initiatives that will strengthen defence ties and help reduce tensions and the risk of miscalculations in this region".

He said such an exercise will "promote collaborations and deepen cooperation". The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, he said, can be practised during the exercise.