Singapore, China eye inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers at the 11th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting opening ceremony in Clark, east of Manila on Oct 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers at the 11th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting opening ceremony in Clark, east of Manila on Oct 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Singapore and China on Monday (Oct 23) agreed to work closely to deepen ties between Asean and China, including planning for an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise.

In talks on the sidelines of the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting at the Clark Freeport north of Manila, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Chinese counterpart, General Chang Wanquan, discussed “further practical initiatives to advance Asean-China relations”.

“This includes planning for conduct of an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

China proposed such an exercise last year, at the China-Asean Defence Ministers’ Informal Meeting in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. It aims to build mutual trust between China and the regional grouping, several of whose members have competing claims with Beijing in the South China Sea.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, Dr Ng mentioned the Asean-China maritime exercise as one of three “initiatives that will strengthen defence ties and help reduce tensions and the risk of miscalculations in this region”.

He said such an exercise will “promote collaborations and deepen cooperation”. The Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, he said, can be practised during the exercise.

Singapore, the Asean-China coordinator from 2015 to 2018, will assume chairmanship of Asean in 2018.

During Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s official visit to China last month, Dr Ng, who was part of the Singapore delegation, met Gen Chang to discuss ways to deepen bilateral defence ties further.

Singapore-China defence relations have steadily progressed since the agreement of the four-point consensus in 2014. Under the 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.

They also agreed to enhance dialogue and mutual understanding through regular high-level meetings and strategic consultation, promote confidence-building and mutual trust through practical cooperation such as joint training exercises, and deepen friendship through increased exchanges and dialogues between their militaries.

“In addition to high level bilateral interactions and exchanges, the People’s Liberation Army and the Singapore Armed Forces conduct regular bilateral interactions, such as the army exercise, Exercise Cooperation, and the new bilateral naval exercise, Exercise Maritime Cooperation, introduced in 2015,” Mindef said in the statement.