SINGAPORE - A defence arrangement formed in 1971 between Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore continues to remain relevant in dealing with today's security threats such as terrorism, leaders from the five countries said on Friday (June 2).
Ministers from the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) members underlined this point at a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel here.
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at a press conference after the meeting that the leaders "reaffirmed the FPDA as an integral part of the regional security architecture" and pledged their "unwavering commitment" to the arrangement.
The countries' militaries and defence staff have also been directed to update the relevance of the FPDA, in terms of exercises and integration of capabilities, to deal with the changing security environment, he said.
Current challenges include counter-terrorism and maritime security, said Dr Ng.
The FPDA is the second oldest military partnership after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and was conceived as a transitional pact to provide for the defence of Singapore and Malaysia. However, some observers have questioned its relevance in recent years.
Speaking at the same press conference, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the FPDA is more than just a military initiative and a legal approach.
Through the FPDA, countries can win hearts and minds using social media to counter the narrative of terror groups like ISIS, which seek to establish a foothold in the region, he said.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin added that the FPDA is "even more important today than ever before".
"The key word is moderation, tolerance, and the counter-narrative to an extreme idea that is not under the sole purview of Islam. We have extremists in all religions and all racial contexts, but this is something for those with the like minds and the determination to stand up to that," he said.
The meeting was also attended by Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne, New Zealand Defence Minister Mark Mitchell and British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman. British defence secretary Michael Fallon could not attend as he is contesting in the United Kingdom general election next week.
In a joint statement, the leaders also said that in the spirt of promoting transparency, the FPDA will enhance its observers programme for non-member countries.
Touching on this, Ms Payne noted that non-members have been invited previously to observe FPDA exercises.
But the leaders see an opportunity to develop this further, such as involving the highest levels of other countries' militaries.
Said Ms Payne: "In all our dealings with our neighbours in the region, everyone of us has been very warm about the opportunity to participate in the observer space and we wanted to record that formally today."
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin said that the threats faced today cannot be resolved by any one country, even within the five FPDA nations.
"The enemy we are facing is the same -they don't have silos, they don't work through geopolitical considerations," he said. "The way forward must be more inclusive."
He hinted that having a more permanent representation of non-FPDA countries could be on the cards.
Ms Payne also noted the timeliness of the FPDA meeting in light of the Manchester terror attack last week, which killed 22 people including children.
She added that the five countries had also discussed where they might "use the new capabilities that each of our nations are bringing online in the coming years".
"That... demonstrates the responsiveness of the FPDA, our ability to move with the times, not withstanding our valuable age as a set of arrangements that have served us well," she said.
Friday's meeting was the 10th FPDA defence ministers' meeting, which is held every three years. Singapore and Malaysia take turns to host the meeting.