Asean, China should conclude pact to ease tensions in South China Sea: Ng Eng Hen

Asean and China should "expeditiously" ink an agreement that is aimed at easing the tensions in the South China Sea, urged Singapore Defence minister Ng Eng Hen. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Asean and China should "expeditiously" ink an agreement that is aimed at easing the tensions in the South China Sea, urged Singapore Defence minister Ng Eng Hen. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Asean and China should "expeditiously" ink an agreement that is aimed at easing the tensions in the South China Sea, urged Singapore Defence minister Ng Eng Hen.

China and the claimant states should "expeditiously conclude" the Code of conduct, a pact that would forbid the first use of force in potential conflicts and reduce miscalculations at seas, he said.

This will also allow all sides to peacefully settle the disputes in the fiercely-contested waters based on internationally-accepted norms and legal frameworks, said Dr Ng on Tuesday.

He was speaking to navy chiefs and coast guard heads from the region and beyond at the opening of this year's International Maritime Defence Exhibition & Conference (Imdex) Asia at Changi Exhibition Centre.

China and Taiwan, along with four Asean nations - Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei - have competing claims over parts of the South China Sea.

As a non-claimant state, Singapore takes no sides in these maritime disputes, said Dr Ng, but the Republic is concerned that the risks of incidents and even conflicts have gone up.

Just last month, Chinese coast Guard vessels clashed with Filipino fishing vessels off Scarborough Shoal.

In his speech, Dr Ng said said such territorial disputes are among the maritime challenges that can be "potentially disruptive" to maritime trade routes in this part of the world and affect not only Singapore but global economy. The other two challenges are the rising threat of maritime terrorism, as well as, piracy and sea robberies.

Having successfully curbed piracy in the Strait of Malacca, Dr Ng said the littoral states in the region will "now need to extend our efforts to new hotspots in the South China Sea".

This year's Imdex Asia, which is in its 10th edition, has a record 23 navy chiefs and vice Chiefs attending it. The trade show, which is not open to the public, opened on Tuesday to projections that the Asia-Pacific would spend more than US$200 billion over the next two decades on new ships and submarines, making it second only to the United States in naval spending.