Mattis reaffirms US commitment to region: Ng Eng Hen

United States Defence Secretary James Mattis presenting a token of appreciation to Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday during Dr Ng's visit to the Pentagon.
United States Defence Secretary James Mattis presenting a token of appreciation to Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday during Dr Ng's visit to the Pentagon.PHOTO: NG ENG HEN/FACEBOOK

Pentagon meeting 'warm and productive'; US wants to deepen bilateral defence ties

United States Defence Secretary James Mattis has reaffirmed the US' commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and its desire to deepen bilateral defence ties with Singapore, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Dr Ng also confirmed that Mr Mattis will be at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security summit attended by top military brass and defence delegates in Singapore, in early June.

Dr Ng met Mr Mattis at the Pentagon on Wednesday on his working visit to the US, and described their meeting as "warm and productive".

"We discussed common security challenges, including the threat of terrorism and ways to deal with them. I look forward to returning the warm hospitality when Secretary Mattis attends the Shangri-La Dialogue," he wrote.

According to the transcript of an interview with Channel NewsAsia in Washington, Dr Ng described Mr Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, as someone who has strategies and plans, and vast experience in the US military.

"He gave a reassuring calm, and in his words, he has now become the 'Secretary of Reassurance'. So I was very happy with the outcome of that," said Dr Ng.

"I think it bodes well from the security point, America's commitment to the region, and... commitment towards Asia-Pacific stability. He understands the nuances in terms of the tensions, or problems that can arise. There is much reassurance and confidence that Secretary Mattis is there."

Dr Ng added that both countries remain committed to the enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2015, which will advance collaboration in new areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Singapore also remains committed to facilitating the use of Changi Naval Base and its air bases by American forces, said Dr Ng.

He said the purpose of his trip, which ended on Wednesday, had been to get a better feel of how to engage the US as there had been "several levels of uncertainty, unpredictability" about the new administration under President Donald Trump.

He noted that Mr Trump's team had never held office before and the administration, unlike others before, still had more government positions to fill. There is also a "crowded and challenging domestic journey" ahead.

Dr Ng said Singapore wants to know how to navigate this new political environment "because our strategy for relations with the US, and global relations, where possible, is to help others to shape... the architecture, to allow small countries like Singapore to prosper". The best way, Dr Ng said, was to meet and talk with individuals, ambassadors and "old friends of Singapore" who understand the politics, Singapore's history and relations with the US, and the region.

Dr Ng also spoke about the meeting between Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling it a "good development" towards a relationship based on cooperation. He said Singapore hopes the US and China would agree to avoid trade wars and help both sides grow economically. This, in turn, will help global trade, which will benefit Singapore.

He also hopes that there will be "positive steps" from the meeting regarding North Korea.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Mattis reaffirms US commitment to region: Ng Eng Hen'. Print Edition | Subscribe