Keeping Straits of Malacca and Singapore open to shipping key to success of Maritime Silk Road, says DPM Teo

DPM Teo Chee Hean speaking at the FutureChina Global Forum. ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG

SINGAPORE - A key requirement for the success of the Maritime Silk Road - which envisions linking China by sea with Europe by way of various Asian and African countries - is to keep critical sea lanes open and safe for shipping, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

This means the transit passage through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore cannot be suspended or impeded, as these waters are crucial to connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Vessels from all countries use the sea lanes as well.

Also, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore hold the status of "Straits used for international navigation", and passage through them is provided for in international law, he added.

DPM Teo made these points in his opening address at the FutureChina Global Forum on Thursday (July 13), when he outlined Singapore's position on the right of transit passage for ships and planes of all countries through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

Singapore is a strong proponent of this right, he said. "This is a key principle of vital interest to us as trade is our lifeblood."

At the same time, adhering to the principle is key to the success of the Maritime Silk Road as it ensures smooth flow of trade and traffic through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

"Singapore will continue to uphold this right of transit passage for ships and aircraft of all countries, and will not support any attempt to restrict transit passage to ships or aircraft from any country," he added.

The Maritime Silk Road is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, which envisions connecting Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of roads, ports, bridges, tunnels, pipelines and other projects.

DPM Teo pointed out that in 2006, Singapore had disagreed with Australia's proposal to place certain restrictions on vessels transiting through the Torres Straits between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The restrictions require ships of more than 70m in length or loaded oil tankers to have a licensed coastal pilot to guide the ship through the Straits, in a bid to to protect the sensitive marine environment in those waters.

He said Singapore disagreed with this, even though it was a strong advocate of marine environmental protection. China had also disagreed with the Australian proposal, he noted.

DPM Teo added that Singapore naval ships and aircraft also work together in the Gulf of Aden with ships from the navies of China, the United States, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members, Japan, South Korea and other countries, to ensure sea lanes there remain safe from piracy.

Similarly, "working together to keep the key sea lanes open and safe for shipping from all countries, and for all countries, is a key prerequisite for the modern Maritime Silk Road", he added.

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