Singapore hopes to advance security cooperation in the region when it takes over as chairman of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) next year, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.
In a speech at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, he outlined three initiatives Singapore hopes to facilitate to strengthen defence ties and help reduce tensions and the risk of miscalculations in the region.
First, to initiate an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise to promote collaboration and deepen cooperation, as Singapore is coordinating Asean-China dialogue ties.
A Chinese delegate, Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, said at a panel a day earlier that Asean and China are exploring holding such an exercise next year.
Second, to expand the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea to all ADMM-Plus countries - all 10 Asean members plus their eight key partners, which include the United States and China.
Third, to establish a set of guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft for Asean. This would be similar to that in a US-China memorandum of understanding on rules of behaviour for safety of air-to-air encounters.
Also, Singapore and Vietnam have jointly proposed that the ADMM-Plus, which now meets every two years, meet annually from this year onwards.
Dr Ng said this will enable all countries to "address the growing security challenges affecting our region more effectively and in a timelier manner".
"As Asia rises, our shared interests grow and we must step up collective efforts to maintain peace and stability in this region," he said.
He was speaking at a panel on global threats and regional security, alongside New Zealand Defence Minister Mark Mitchell and Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Alexander Vasilyevich Fomin.
Dr Ng noted that regional security is crucial for trade to flourish: "We must be mindful that security and stability are pre-conditions and mutually reinforcing steps towards greater prosperity and progress."
Singapore will do its best to balance security and trade interests as Asean chair next year, he added.
Asean remains a bright spot in the global economy, with trade deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a potential European Union-Asean Free Trade Agreement, China's One Belt, One Road initiative, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
"Singapore fully supports and will facilitate all these initiatives," Dr Ng said.
He noted that in 1985, when the US Congress was considering protectionist moves to address a record trade deficit, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke on the link between free trade and peace on a visit to the US.
"His words are relevant today, as then," said Dr Ng, as he read out an excerpt from that speech:
"For 40 years since the end of World War II, the world had avoided major wars because of open and free trade. This enabled many nations to realise their potential and enjoy great abundance by exporting their goods and services, instead of exporting themselves and their systems and imposing their wills on other peoples in other lands."