Japan supports Singapore's push for a regional code for air encounters

Dr Ng Eng Hen receiving a brief on the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Interceptor Missile Battery systems at the Japan Ministry of Defence. PHOTO: MINDEF

TOKYO - Japan supports the establishment of a code for unplanned encounters between military aircraft in the air, Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told visiting Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen on Monday (May 21).

This is one of Singapore's priorities as the chair of the 18-nation Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus this year.

Dr Ng, who is on a three-day working visit to Tokyo that ends on Tuesday (May 22), also visited a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile battery and reviewed a Guard of Honour at Japan's Ministry of Defence, said Singapore's Defence Ministry in a statement on Monday (May 21).

He also met Mr Shotaro Yachi, the secretary-general for Japan's National Security Secretariat, on the same day.

The land-based PAC-3 surface-to-air missile interceptor can destroy targets at altitudes of up to 20km and is Japan's last line of defence against any incoming missiles.

Japan has been mulling a boost in its defence capabilities, after the North lobbed a volley of ballistic missiles into waters uncomfortably close to its shores last year.

Regional tensions have somewhat subsided, with Singapore slated to host a historic summit meeting on June 12 between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Even so, Mr Onodera stressed on Monday that Japan was not taking a detente for granted.

"Although North Korea has recently adopted a more reconciliatory attitude, it has not formally promised anything," he told Dr Ng. "Japan is looking forward to concrete actions towards the complete disposal of its weapons of mass destruction and its arsenal of ballistic missiles."

He told Dr Ng that Japan will work closely with Singapore towards the success of the June 12 summit. Dr Ng, in response, reportedly said that Singapore was pleased to host the meeting, and was looking forward to a successful summit.

Japanese media reports cited Dr Ng as saying that Singapore rates highly Japan's initiative to police regional waters so as to curtail illicit maritime activities such as ship-to-ship transfers of goods with North Korean-flagged vessels that would allow Pyongyang to evade stiff sanctions.

The two defence chiefs have met four times since Mr Onodera attended the high-level Shangri-La Defence Dialogue in Singapore in 2013. Mr Onodera said on Monday that he will attend this year's dialogue in Singapore, which is scheduled for June 1 to 3.

This is Dr Ng's first visit to Japan since an introductory visit in 2012, when he met then-Japanese Minister of Defence Satoshi Morimoto.

At Monday's meeting, Dr Ng and Mr Onodera reaffirmed the warm bilateral defence ties between Singapore and Japan, which have been forged through regular interactions such as visits, policy dialogues, military staff talks and mutual attendance of courses and seminars.

Singapore chairs the ADMM-Plus this year, which involves the 10 Asean nations, as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Mr Onodera on Monday said that Japan is committed to the ADMM-Plus, and fully supports the areas of focus on Singapore's to-do list as ADMM-Plus chair.

In the list that was spelt out by Dr Ng last month (April), the areas of focus involve boosting counter-terrorism cooperation; strengthening regional capability against chemical, biological and radiological threats; as well as establishing confidence-building measures for air and sea encounters to reduce the risk of miscalculations.

Tokyo's pledge to support Singapore's push for the ADMM-Plus to set up a regional code for unplanned air and sea encounters comes weeks after it signed an agreement with Beijing for a conflict hotline to avert maritime and aerial incidents, including over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

This hotline will take effect on June 8, and covers politically sensitive waters and airspace over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

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