SINGAPORE - The United States has "no better friend than Singapore" in the region, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday (June 3).
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Singapore counterpart Ng Eng Hen, Mr Carter also said the US is grateful to have "as capable and as principled a security partner as Singapore".
"Singapore is among many countries in this world, like the US, that stands for cooperation and inclusiveness and principled in the proper conduct of international affairs,'' he added.
In a sign of the strong defence ties between the two countries, more than 100 US navy ships and more than 800 US aircraft transit in Singapore every year.
Mr Carter said the US presence in the region is aimed at inclusive cooperation in which "every one participates in the collective defence of our people from today's threats".
"It is based upon principled and non-exclusion cooperation (for) common interests," said the defence secretary.
Dr Ng said the longstanding ties, since the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 1990, underscores Singapore's belief that US presence has contributed and will continue to contribute greatly towards stability in this region. The MOU was a key agreement which allowed wider use of Singapore's facilities by the US military.
Mr Carter and Dr Ng met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian security meeting which opened in Singapore on Friday.
Dr Ng went on a flight on board a US P8 Poseidon surveillance plane over the Straits of Malacca on Friday morning. Both he and Mr Carter also visited the SAF Imagery Support Group.
Dr Ng said that while the US will continue to be a global power in this region, China is also rising. This is set against the backdrop of Beijing's increasing militarisation in the South China Sea, which four other Asean countries have overlapping territorial claims.
Meanwhile, the stepped-up sea and air patrols, dubbed freedom of navigation operations (Fonops), by US planes and warships has also irked the Chinese.
Urging for an "inclusive (security) architecture", Dr Ng said: "There has to be clear rules of the road where all of us understand how we resolve disputes and whether we have the political will to resolve disputes."
The defence minister added that Singapore has "no fantasies or delusions" of the size of its influence.
"What Singapore can do is try to speak truth to power, to say what it sees as accommodating both the interests of small and large countries, and how Singapore can continue to maintain stability in the region through various fora, including the Shangri-La Dialogue."
When asked if Singapore would take part in Fonops, Dr Ng would only say that Singapore always believes in the the global commons and critical waterways that Singapore can do its part to keep safe. He cited Singapore's participation in joint counter-piracy patrols in Malacca Strait and the gulf of Aden.
Secretary Carter also suggested that China participates in the regional cooperation, which is based on a rules-based order.
Citing Beijing's participation in the upcoming Rim of the Pacific exercises, or RIMPAC, Mr Carter said: "That is a perfect example of working together...militaries working together for common purpose. We like to see more of that."