Five-nation defence pact fulfils S'pore's needs, can be stabilising force in region: Ng Eng Hen

Aircraft from the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) member-nations take part in a flypast in Singapore on October 18, 2021. ST PHOTO:KUA CHEE SIONG
Dr Ng Eng Hen (centre) with representatives from New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia and Britain at the FPDA 50th Anniversary Flypast and Naval Vessel Display on Oct 18, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) can act as a stabilising force in a region that can be endangered by misunderstanding and miscalculation between state actors, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday (Oct 18).

He said that 50 years from its signing, the FPDA continues to fulfil Singapore's defence needs and remains relevant. The joint military exercises conducted year on year - this year amid the pandemic - reflect the strong commitment by all five member states to their relationship.

The FPDA was inked in 1971 by Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Britain after Britain's withdrawal from the region to make sure Singapore and Malaysia have recourse to help in the event of an imminent armed attack.

Over the years, it has evolved to also include collaboration on non-conventional threats, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The pact marked its 50th anniversary on Monday.

"Our posture is non-threatening, not directed at any one country... The threat is not any one single country," Dr Ng reiterated of the arrangement's aim.

"The FPDA acts as a paradigm of an inclusive military group that works together for the peace and stability of the region."

He was fielding questions from the press at Marina Barrage after observing a fly-past and naval vessel display put up by the FPDA's five member nations.

Representatives of the other four member states were also with Dr Ng. They are: British High Commissioner to Singapore Kara Owen, Australia High Commissioner to Singapore William Hodgman, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore Jo Tyndall and Malaysia High Commissioner to Singapore Azfar Mohamad Mustafar.

The FPDA does not commit member countries to intervene militarily if Singapore or Malaysia is under attack. It stipulates only that member states are to consult one another immediately to decide next actions, which Dr Ng said fits the security context of this region.

"It is a peaceful region. If there are hostilities, the more precipitous ones are really like terrorism. (As for) the traditional threats, country to country, there are no impending ones," he said.

"The posture of the FPDA is adequate for our security challenges. It doesn't mean that we won't have surprises, but I think what we are doing is exactly right, to continue to exercise during peace time to build understanding."

China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August. When asked about this, Dr Ng said that while countries cannot stop others from pursuing new military capabilities, the development of new weapons should be done within a framework of understanding and dialogue with other members of the international community.

Members of the public take pictures of three F-15SGs flying the waters of Marina South at the SkyPark Observation Deck at Marina Bay Sands on Oct 18, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

"We continue to look to these technologies that advanced countries have and I look forward to meeting my counterparts to discuss this issue," he said.

On the increased interest shown in the region by European powers - including Britain, which is deploying two more warships here after the recent carrier strike group deployment - as well as the rising tensions in the South China Sea, Dr Ng said: "Our belief has always been that the seas are open. We practise that as a government policy... and at the same time, we will speak to various countries individually so that we can move towards more dialogue and more cooperation."

When a reporter asked Ms Owen if the increased British presence has escalated tensions in the region, she said the carrier strike group is a multinational activity, involving 40 countries.

"This is about the UK and the position that it wants in the world, and it's about partnership," she added.

Ms Owen said of the FPDA: "Our militaries have been hugely committed to making sure the activity that we do together is of benefit to all of the participants. Having annual activities, all the way through the year, reasons to discuss issues together - that is something that we hugely value."

The joint military exercises conducted year on year reflect the strong commitment by all five member states to their relationship. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The fixed-wing formation comprising fighter jets from the five nations fly over the waters near Marina South on Oct 18, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The fly-past and naval vessel display was led by six Republic of Singapore Air Force planes in a delta formation.

This was followed by a combined FPDA fly-past performed by fighter aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters from the five countries.

Five warships were also supposed to be on display in this segment, but Britain's HMS Diamond dropped out after technical difficulties. The destroyer had participated in the training event Exercise Bersama Gold with other FPDA partners before this.

The exercise, which involved about 2,600 personnel, featured a contactless air and maritime Field Training Exercise, and a virtual jungle warfare workshop.

Rounding off the fly-past were another six RSAF planes that performed an aerial salute.

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