Positive engagement between countries, dialogue leading to practical cooperation and political will and leadership are needed to ensure greater strategic trust and Asia's security amid rapid changes.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said this at the 50th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Germany on Saturday. The conference held annually is a high-level security conference involving foreign affairs and defence leaders worldwide.
Dr Ng explained that as Asia became wealthier over the centuries, many independent nations were free to chart their own futures. As such, many Asian nations also witnessed a rising tide of nationalism. For example, strong nationalist sentiments have been roused in both China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, he said. And as tensions rise over this issue, South-east Asia and Korea will be watching closely, he said.
To maintain harmonious relations in the Asia-Pacific region, Dr Ng emphasised the need to nurture greater strategic trust. This includes holding dialogues such as the MSC as well as the Shangri-La Dialogue. These dialogues must lead to practical cooperation to build understanding that precedes trust.
For example the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus led to a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and Military Medicine exercise held in June last year. The exercise allowed constructive engagement and practical cooperation between 18 militaries including the United States, China and Japan, said Dr Ng.
To ensure greater strategic trust, political will and leadership is needed to anchor trust. Dr Ng gave the example of the accommodative and open stance maintained by US President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the bilateral summit in Sunnylands, California last year.
"This sets the appropriate tone and example for all countries in the Asia-Pacific to navigate through the region's changing dynamics", he said. "Singapore looks forward to the combined leadership from both US and Chinese governments to achieve stability and progress for Asia and the world."