SINGAPORE - The world’s second-oldest military partnership, the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), is "more necessary than ever" to maintain stability in the region, said British defence secretary Michael Fallon on Saturday (June 4).
The 45-year-old grouping, made up of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia, is also "a very clear sign of British commitment in the region".
He was speaking to The Straits Times after meeting with his counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand. Australian on the sidelines of the 15th Shangri-La Dialogue, a defence summit organised by the organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
The FPDA, which came into force in 1971, was initially conceived as a transitional agreement to provide for the defence of Malaysia and Singapore until the then new states could fend for themselves.
While other multilateral military groupings like the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, which has 18 member countries including China and the United States, are growing in prominence, the FPDA remains a "force for good" with troops undergoing regular training exercises every year, said Mr Fallon.
As part of efforts to shift its attention to the Asia-Pacific, Britain will increase the number of troops across the region and continue to put its troops, warships and warplanes through their paces in the area, asid Mr Fallon.
This will include putting one of its two yet-to-be-completed aircraft carriers in this part of the world, said Mr Fallon.
"We recognise that this is the fastest growing region of the world which has rapidly growing population and it's vital for the prosperity of the world trading system," he said.
"We have not yet scheduled the first deployments. But you can be sure in the 2020s, you will see one or other of these carriers in the Asia-Pacific," he said.
In a joint statement released after their meeting on Saturday, defence ministers from FPDA members expressed their countries’ aspiration to provide the necessary resources for FPDA exercises to meet the evolving regional security challenges.
"Recognising the importance of confidence-building measures especially with non-FPDA countries in the region, the FPDA Defence Ministers welcomed initiatives aimed at engaging these countries, which include inviting non-FPDA ASEAN countries to observe FPDA exercises," said the statement.
"This is to increase transparency and to alleviate any sensitivities towards FPDA activities in the region.
Meanwhile, Britain is building relationships with its partners in the region with its officials meeting their Japanese and Australian counterparts. The British defence chief, General Sir Nick Houghton, has met with his Chinese counterpart in the recent months, Mr Fallon added.
On the ongoing South China Sea dispute, Mr Fallon said that Britain does not take sides in the overlapping territorial claims of China and several Asean countries but urges all parties to exercise restraint to "reduce the risk of miscalculation".
He added that Britain wants to see all parties, including Beijing, respect the upcoming ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case initiated by the Philippines against China.
"I think its important that these disputes are pursued through international fora, through the various conventions that apply and that the rulings, when they come, are fully respected."