Shangri-La Dialogue: Rules infused with correct spirit needed for regional stability, says Ng Eng Hen

Chinese Deputy Chief, General Staff Department, People's Liberation Army, Admiral Sun Jianguo (left) is greeted by Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen during the Ministerial Luncheon during the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31, 2015. -- ST PHOT
Chinese Deputy Chief, General Staff Department, People's Liberation Army, Admiral Sun Jianguo (left) is greeted by Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen during the Ministerial Luncheon during the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - It is not enough to just put in place a rules-based system to establish stability in the region, but the rules have to be "infused with the correct spirit", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

It is also vital to have political commitment to build mutual confidence and trust in that security framework, said Dr Ng in his speech to delegates at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday.

He said that there is, and will be, pressure for existing rules that govern international order to be adjusted to accommodate rising powers in the Asia Pacific.

Whether established powers or rising, large states or small, regional countries have a "vested interest to ensure that we maintain a rules-based system with respect for sovereignty and international law".

Dr Ng said: "It would be unrealistic to assume that the currents rules, and the existing institutions that promote them, would remain status quo, even as new powers emerge.

"But even as the hierarchy of power dynamics alter across regions and between individual states, we have to ensure that the security architecture remains inclusive and operates on rules and norms that have the consensus of the international community at large."

Weighing in on the rival territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Dr Ng reiterated that Singapore is not a claimant state and that it does not take sides. But it is concerned that uncertainties in the international agreements or disputes over the claims have created instability.

"Indeed, a deficit of trust now exists and can grow," said Dr Ng, as he called on countries to clarify on the practices, if not the principles of law, that maintain regional stability and restore confidence and trust.

The defence minister also urged China and Asean to follow through with their earlier commitment for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

jermync@sph.com.sg