Collective security in region needed on top of individual defence strategies: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking to reporters at the close of his four-day working visit to Tokyo, on May 27, 2022. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

TOKYO - Countries should work towards building collective security even as they boost their own individual defences, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (May 27).

While he noted that geopolitical tensions and the Ukraine war have caused countries in the region to reassess their defence postures, PM Lee said: "Security is not just (about) an individual country, because they will each do what we are trying to do to make ourselves safe.

"Collectively, we may all make others feel unsafe, and then we may all end up worse off. So we also have to work together with other countries to secure collective security."

PM Lee was speaking to Singapore reporters at the close of his four-day working visit to Tokyo.

On Thursday, in a keynote speech to the 27th International Conference on the Future of Asia, organised by Japanese media group Nikkei, PM Lee had urged more inclusive collaboration in security and the economy to build linkages as the risks of hostilities are high in a divided world.

He had noted that security cooperation should complement tangible and mutually beneficial economic cooperation. This would ensure that countries have stakes in one another's economic success, thus giving them incentive to overcome problems.

This was why Singapore has participated in both the United States' new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which was launched in Tokyo on Monday, while also supporting China's Belt and Road Initiative and Global Development Initiative.

"I do not see that the two are mutually exclusive or just because one side is deepening its cooperation that means it is bad for the other side," PM Lee said on Friday.

On security, Japan has been gradually building up its capabilities and inching up defence spending over the years. It is set to revise its National Defence Programme Guidelines, a 10-year defence build-up blueprint, this year, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida having vowed to "radically strengthen" security.

On the agenda are a faster increase in defence spending and the controversial acquisition of "pre-emptive strike" capabilities against enemy bases if intelligence deems an attack imminent. The latter has been controversial, given Japan's history as a wartime aggressor, and given its pacifist Constitution.

While PM Lee acknowledged that Japan is in a "particularly sensitive" position due to its past, he said: "With the passage of time, passing of generations, and a new strategic situation, the imperative to play a greater role in regional security for Japan is growing."

He added: "The best way they can fulfil that, is by coming to terms and putting to rest the historical issues which have been open for a long time."

This would depend on Japan's bilateral relations with individual countries, as well as its "overall posture and ability to demonstrate that it is adding value to the regional security situation".

And PM Lee noted that Japan has already been doing this through bilateral exercises, training exchanges and visits, including with Singapore, where Japanese warships have made port calls.

Japan is also participating in Asean-led regional defence and security dialogues and arrangements, including the Asean Regional Forum and Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

"With some countries you can move further than others," PM Lee said, noting that while Japan has good relationships in South-east Asia, it shares a "difficult relationship" with South Korea and "an even more difficult relationship" with China.

He added: "But nevertheless I think the Japanese do understand that these are permanently their neighbours, and they need to do their best, and they will do their best to try to have a working relationship coexisting with them."

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