Being a small city-state, Singapore cannot survive in a world where might is right, which is why it needs to be a strong advocate of a rules- based world order, said Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung.
He cited an example: With independence in 1965, the Separation Agreement guaranteed Singapore's water agreements with Malaysia.
"A small country needs a world order that respects and abides by international law and the sanctity of contracts and agreements," he told delegates at the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing.
"We cannot over-rely on history because it was not too long ago in history that Singapore did not exist," Mr Ong said at a plenary session titled Responding To New Security Challenges In The Asia-Pacific Through Cooperation.
This is one reason why Singapore diplomats have actively helped to set up international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, multilateral trading regimes, and also climate change negotiations, he added.
Upholding a rules-based international order, and supporting an open and inclusive regional architecture not only benefit small countries like Singapore, but also act as underlying bases and principles for all countries to co-exist and prosper in the globalisation era, he said.
Noting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's comments last year that countries should expand common ground amid differences and seek inclusive cooperation, Mr Ong said such a system would need clear and established norms and rules of behaviour to ensure an atmosphere of certainty and predictability.
Militaries can play a part by holding joint exercises, sharing views and keeping communications open, he added.
Speaking to Singapore reporters later, he cited joint military exercises between China and Singapore in 2014 and last year as examples. He added that Admiral Sun Jianguo responded "quite positively" to his proposal to hold the exercise again next year.
Mr Ong, who met with deputy defence ministers from Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei on the sidelines, said Singapore also works with China on regional defence cooperation, such as supporting Beijing's proposal for an Asean-China maritime exercise.
As for recent criticisms of Singapore by Chinese officials and media over the South China Sea issue, he said misunderstandings will occur occasionally in bilateral ties.
But it is important to understand that both countries have very holistic and comprehensive collaboration and cooperation across many fields, he added.
Kor Kian Beng
• Additional reporting by Chong Koh Ping.