Singapore and China to deepen defence ties with more bilateral exercises

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen with Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defence General Chang Wanquan. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NG ENG HEN
Dr Ng and General Chang exchanged gifts during the meeting. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NG ENG HEN
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a discussion with Chinese defence counterparts in Beijing. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NG ENG HEN

BEIJING - Singapore and China will further deepen military ties, such as through stepping up bilateral exercises between the two countries' navies and armies.

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said on Friday (Sept 22) that he had a successful trip to Beijing for defence relations, where he met Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defence General Chang Wanquan.

The two ministers agreed to reaffirm the commitment to deepen defence ties and build mutual trust and practical cooperation between both countries during their Thursday meeting, Singapore's Defence Ministry (Mindef) said in a statement on Friday.

Dr Ng wrote on Facebook that he and General Chang explored concrete and practical ways to deepen defence relations based on the Four-Point Consensus agreed to in 2014.

Under the Four-Point Consensus, Singapore and China pledged a steady development of the defence relationship, based on mutual respect and accommodating each other's security concerns for mutual trust. The two countries also agreed to enhance dialogue and mutual understanding through regular high-level meetings and strategic consultation, to promote confidence-building and mutual trust through practical cooperation such as joint training exercises, and to deepen friendship through increased exchanges and dialogues between both militaries.

Dr Ng had said in 2014 when he signed the consensus with General Chang that the document "goes beyond the motherhood statements" as it lays out the principle of mutual regard, respect and accommodation of each side's security needs for mutual trust, and substantively spells out ways to grow ties.

Since the agreement, Singapore-China defence relations have steadily progressed, including the introduction of a new bilateral naval exercise in 2015, Exercise Maritime Cooperation, which comprised conventional naval warfare serials, exercise planning, and combined simulator training ashore, Mindef said in the statement.

On Friday, Dr Ng said on Facebook of the latest meeting: "Gen Chang fully supported more and frequent high level exchanges among top commanders in the People's Liberation Army and the SAF."

Dr Ng was part of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's delegation that was on a three-day official visit to China.

During his visit, which ended on Thursday, Mr Lee had meetings with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, top legislator Zhang Dejiang and anti-graft czar Wang Qishan as well as other Chinese officials. The four men sit on China's apex Politburo Standing Committee.

"That their four top leaders met with PM's delegation at this busy period before the 19th Party Congress, was observed and repeated by many experts that this signalled Beijing's high regard to advance bilateral ties with Singapore, comprehensively, in all spheres," Dr Ng wrote.

During the meeting with Dr Ng, General Chang acknowledged the role that Singapore, as the Asean-China Dialogue Relations Coordinator, has played to improve defence ties between China and Asean.

Looking ahead to Singapore's chairmanship of Asean in 2018, Dr Ng and General Chang agreed to further strengthen Asean-China relations in order to enhance regional peace and stability, Mindef said in the statement.

"As Asean-China coordinator and Asean chair next year...Mindef will do its part to step up practical cooperation between China and Asean, to promote stability and progress in this region," Dr Ng wrote on Facebook.

During the meeting with General Chang, Dr Ng congratulated the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on its 90th anniversary and acknowledged the pivotal role the PLA had played in China's founding and continued importance in shaping its future.

Dr Ng also invited General Chang and the PLA leadership to visit Singapore.

As part of his trip, Dr Ng was hosted to a visit of the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution by its curator, Major-General Dong Changjun.

China's Ministry of National Defence said in a release on Friday that leaders of both countries attach great importance to the development of bilateral relations, and the two countries should back each other on their core interests and major concerns.

General Chang also said China is willing to break new ground for cooperation with Singapore.

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