SINGAPORE - The extension of Asean's ministerial-level hotline to eight key partner countries including the United States and China was welcomed at the 8th Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) on Wednesday (June 16).
The 10 Asean countries and their eight dialogue partners that comprised ADMM-Plus also reaffirmed their shared commitment to regional peace and stability amid ongoing security challenges in a joint statement, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).
The Asean Direct Communications Infrastructure was described in a 2014 concept paper as a "permanent, rapid, reliable and confidential means" by which any two Asean defence ministers may communicate with one another and arrive at mutual decisions in handling crisis or emergency situations.
Another concept paper on the expansion of the hotline to the Plus countries in 2019 said the infrastructure ran in phases, from secure voice and fax, to e-mail communications.
The Plus countries refer to the US, China, India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The communications infrastructure was meant to strengthen strategic cooperation, said the ADMM-Plus joint statement on Wednesday.
It was also to "provide a platform for engagement in dialogue and enhancing transparency, regional confidence, and security building measures, especially in the time of the pandemic".
Mindef said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his counterparts also exchanged views on the regional and international security environment at the meeting.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and Russian Deputy Defence Minister Andrey Kartapolov were among those who attended the meeting by video conference.
In remarks sent to the media after Wednesday's meeting, Dr Ng said the fact that all 18 countries participated virtually despite the pandemic reflected the importance that they accord to ADMM-Plus.
"It is the de facto security grouping for this region. It was also important that there were issues, disagreements or differences that were aired, such as the South China Sea, and the concern over the situation in Myanmar."
The fact that these issues were raised shows that the ADMM-Plus continues to be relevant, he added.
The joint statement reaffirmed the need to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation".
They also raised the need for peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As with previous ADMM-Plus joint statements, there was no explicit mention of the South China Sea.
Speaking at the meeting, Dr Ng stressed the importance of finding new avenues for strategic dialogue and practical cooperation on the ADMM-Plus to deal with current and new security challenges amid Covid-19.
These included terrorism, cyber security, misinformation and disinformation threats, said Mindef.
The minister said the establishment of a Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence in Singapore and the conducting of the ADMM-Plus chemical, biological and radiological conference next year would serve the defence sector's need for sound analysis and information sharing.
The establishment of the centre and Singapore's proposal to host the conference were approved at the 15th ADMM on Tuesday.