Singapore, China, pledge to strengthen Asean-China defence cooperation

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen with his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, at the Bayi Building in Beijing on Oct 24, 2018. PHOTO: MINDEF

BEIJING - Singapore and China have pledged to strengthen defence cooperation across the region, including working towards holding another joint maritime exercise.

This commitment, which came out of a meeting of defence chiefs in Beijing on Wednesday (Oct 24), comes a day after Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen called on China to engage more with other countries to assure them that its rise was peaceful.

Dr Ng arrived in Beijing on Tuesday night from Zhanjiang in Guangdong province where he had surveyed the ongoing Asean-China Maritime Exercise.

He met his counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, on Wednesday morning and told him Asean's defence ministers were "very happy that we are able to hold such an exercise".

"All of them agree that this is very good and important for Asean-China relations," said Dr Ng.

The exercise, which began on Monday, is organised by Singapore and China. It involves over 1,000 personnel and is expected to include helicopter cross-deck landings and a joint search-and-rescue operation.

Dr Ng began his five-day visit to China on Monday. Besides visiting the Asean-China Maritime Exercise and meeting Chinese defence leaders, he will deliver a speech at the Xiangshan Forum, a security conference, on Thursday.

He also thanked Gen Wei for supporting the recently concluded Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Singapore and its expanded platform ADMM-Plus.

At the meeting last week between Asean ministers and Gen Wei, the Chinese minister had proposed three new areas to deepen China's defence engagement with Asean: Establishing an Asean-China direct communications hotline, having think-tank exchanges and a young leaders' exchange programme.

Dr Ng said Singapore "fully supports" these initiatives.

In his opening remarks, Gen Wei said the success of the ADMM-Plus, which also includes the United States, Russia, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, was due to Singapore's active efforts, and reflects the country's important influence in regional and international affairs.

Gen Wei said his Singapore counterpart has left a "good and deep impression" on him.

"I feel the closeness of being able to meet with you twice in one week," said Gen Wei, adding that both sides had reached "a lot of consensus on regional and international affairs".

He added that Dr Ng had "agreed without hesitation" when China had invited him to the Xiangshan Forum, which reflected the importance Singapore attached to bilateral defence relations with China.

"I believe your visit to China will play a very active and positive role in enhancing mutual understanding and trust," said Gen Wei.

Dr Ng added: "China has always treated Singapore with respect. I'd like to thank the Chinese leaders for our good relations."

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement that both leaders agreed to continue to keep up high-level visits and discussed ways to expand cooperation. They were also looking forward to the conduct of a joint army exercise next year.

Mindef added that Dr Ng's visit to China is testament to the strong bilateral defence ties.

Before the meeting, Dr Ng was given a ceremonial welcome by Gen Wei. A military band played the national anthem of both countries before Dr Ng inspected a guard of honour comprising soldiers from the PLA.

Later in the evening, Dr Ng attended a welcome banquet for delegates and leaders attending the Xiangshan Forum.

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