Asean states and regional powers pledge to strengthen counter-terrorism, support air code

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he is confident the Plus eight countries will adopt the air guidelines. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Major countries like the United States, China and Japan gave their in-principle support for the world's first multilateral air guidelines following the conclusion of a regional defence summit on Saturday (Oct 20).

At the end of the 5th Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), the 10 Asean countries and eight partners also "condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations", and agreed to strengthen regional counter-terrorism cooperation.

This includes regional cooperation through the sharing of information, intelligence, experience, best practices, and lessons learnt, said a Ministry of Defence (Mindef) statement on Saturday.

These were the key outcomes of the summit, where two joint statements were issued. It was the first time that the ADMM-Plus has issued joint outcome documents since 2013. The third ADMM-Plus was held in 2015, and the fourth last year in the Philippines.

The first statement was on preventing and countering the threat of terrorism, and the second on practical confidence-building measures.

The ADMM-Plus involved the Asean member states and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the US.

Together, the 18 countries represent 90 per cent of the world's troops.

On Friday, the Asean countries had agreed to adopt the Guidelines for Air Military Encounters (Game) at the 12th ADMM.

It is a set of communication protocols meant to reduce the likelihood of accidents that could escalate into a conflict.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the air guidelines were "not just a set of motherhood statements", and he is confident the Plus eight countries will adopt it.

"Any defence minister recognises (they) need these guidelines. Because we all know that if there's a physical incident, it changes the name of the game. It changes the complexion, it creates a cascade of activities which you cannot control," he said in an interview after the meeting on Saturday.

He said that it "wasn't a given" that the Asean countries had agreed on the code, and there were concerns that it might encourage countries to intrude into another's airspace.

"Having agreed on them, there is in that sense, moral encouragement, if not moral pressure on your eight larger countries to say, if Asean countries can agree on it, why can't we?

"And I will tell you that among the Plus countries many of them have already said yes, in a way. But we wanted to do it formally and I'm confident that Thailand can make progress as chairman next year and Singapore will assist."

Singapore handed over chairmanship of the ADMM and ADMM-Plus to Thailand on Saturday.

In a speech, Thailand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence General Prawit Wongsuwan thanked Mindef for strengthening cooperation and building resilience.

"Rest assured that the Kingdom of Thailand will build on cooperation and initiatives that Minister Ng Eng Hen and the Ministry of Defence of Singapore have successfully established," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.