Victoria Bitter and Singapore chilli crab go well together, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when he addressed the Australian Parliament last week. The two nations offer other pairings as well to suit different tastes - a metaphor of strategic ties that should appeal to a range of domestic sectors. Deeper engagement between Australia and an Asean member ought to be welcomed as "South-east Asia is entering a period of strategic rivalry not experienced since the Cold War", as a Sydney think-tank noted. Regional cooperation, especially in security, can have a stabilising effect.
Indeed, the defence component of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership inked by the two countries last year - and the initiatives in May to give effect to the pact - is significant. Australia's 2016 Defence White Paper saw Singapore as its "most advanced defence partner in South-east Asia" with which it seeks to promote military interoperability via "complex, high-end combined exercises" under the Five-Power Defence Arrangements - the other partners being Malaysia, New Zealand and Britain. Also valued is cooperation in other areas like counter-terrorism, intelligence exchange and cyber security. For the city-state, the provision of Australian space, 10 times the size of the island, for Singapore Armed Forces training will sharpen its military capability.
The upgraded bilateral ties also include elevating trade, expanding science and technology cooperation, battling transnational crime and making provisions for skilled professionals from both sides to work in the other country. As multicultural, trade-dependent nations that require open access to the seas, Singapore and Australia share common interests that go beyond their links as former British colonies. With cutting-edge research in medicine, biotech and a host of other areas, and an economy that has escaped a recession for nearly a quarter century, there is much Singapore can draw from Australia. On the flip side, English-speaking, outward-oriented Singapore offers its larger partner an oasis of calm in an increasingly unstable area and an economic launch pad to South-east Asia.
The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is the brainchild of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who came into office promising "more Jakarta, less Geneva" - a euphemism for the Asia-first policy of his nation, which is dominated by descendants of European immigrants. It is a reflection of the stability of Australia's external policies that his successor has taken it upon himself to deepen the bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the partnership as one "fit for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century".
The constancy of ties, based on shared strategic views and dovetailing economic interests, is the strongest feature of this long-term partnership.