South China Sea spat does not need a military solution: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (right) toured the PLA Navy's newest missile corvette Fushun at the Qingdao naval base, which is the headquarters for the PLA Navy's North Sea Fleet. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (right) toured the PLA Navy's newest missile corvette Fushun at the Qingdao naval base, which is the headquarters for the PLA Navy's North Sea Fleet. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

BEIJING - Singapore rejects a military solution to defuse simmering tensions in the fiercely contested South China Sea. Instead, countries with competing claims should use diplomatic means to resolve the ongoing maritime territorial spat, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

"The less involved our militaries are, the better for all of us. Its not an issue that requires a military solution. It should never require a military solution. In fact, the military should stay as far away as possible from this, and allow diplomatic and other aspects of resolution," said Dr Ng.

Speaking to the media on the final day of his week-long trip to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan and other leaders in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Dr Ng said they discussed how Singapore hopes there would be a peaceful way to resolve the dispute over the waters, through which 50 per cent of world trade flows.

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

Beijing has angered the Asean nations from time to time, asserting its claim to 90 per cent of the disputed waters. But in a move to mend ties last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the East Asia Summit that Beijing wants closer defence ties with Asean.

Dr Ng said countries should take China at its word. Pointing out China's proposal to sign a treaty of cooperation with Asean nations and its offer to host a meeting with Asean defence ministers next year, he said: "These are gestures that (show) that China is reaching out and trying to establish dialogue and...confidence. We ought to respond positively to this." He added that Singapore will be happy to attend the informal summit and will encourage his Asean counterparts to do so.

While Singapore is reluctant to play broker or mediator in any issue because it is a small nation, Dr Ng said that the Republic will make its voice heard to maintain regional peace and security. "We want clear rules that everyone can follow, clear rules that provide stability, clear rules that facility disputes peaceful resolution and international law."