Parliament: Singapore will continue to pursue defence, foreign policy for its survival, progress

The US Navys USS Coronado (LCS 4) is guided by pilot boats (unseen) as she docks at Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Oct 16, 2016.
The US Navys USS Coronado (LCS 4) is guided by pilot boats (unseen) as she docks at Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Oct 16, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore's defence and foreign policy as an independent, sovereign nation will continue to be based on positioning itself in the best possible position to survive and progress, whatever the calculations or policies of other countries may be, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Thursday (Nov 10).

"Singapore must dictate its policy based on its own interests," he added. "Obviously we have to watch what other countries do, their foreign policy. Singapore is a small country and we will work with like-minded partners who pursue peace and stability in our region."

This is why it pushes for joint cooperation and exercises with other countries, he said.

"We seek to have as many friends as possible and we encourage countries to use our facilities - whether it's Changi Naval Base or the air bases," he added.

He was responding to a question by Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, who had asked how Singapore would mitigate the costs and risks that would arise should there be a major American departure from its current strategy of a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Tan asked what the Government's plans were if the United States' alliances with its existing allies were to weaken, or if the reverse happened.

His question comes as the US under the Obama administration spent considerable effort strengthening ties with Asia in pursuit of its strategy to rebalance its military and diplomatic interests towards the region, and observers suggest this focus might shift after President-elect Donald Trump assumes office in January.

Dr Ng declined to address the "theoretical" scenarios Mr Tan posed, but said: "Our starting point is whatever the calculations of other countries, whatever their foreign policy, we start from this important fundamental - we seek to make sure that Singapore benefits the most and our foreign policy or defence policy is predicated on making sure that we have positioned ourselves in the best possible position to survive and to compete."

"We Singaporeans are ultimately responsible for our own security but we will partner like minded countries and pursue common objectives of peace and stability for our region."

For this reason, Singapore in 1971 joined the Five-Power Defence Arrangements alongside Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, which imposes an obligation on the five nations to consult in the event of an external attack on Malaysia and Singapore, he said.

It also worked with other Asean countries to build a security architecture that is inclusive and based on the rule of law, where peaceful settlement of disputes, dialogue, cooperation and non-provocation are the norm for countries within that framework. This led to the setting up of ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus in 2010, which includes China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the US and Russia, he added.

"As a matter of policy, Singapore will continue to partner like-minded countries to pursue peace and stability for our region. We seek to be friends with all militaries and encourage them to use our port and airbases for transit," Dr Ng said.

"Military ships and submarines from many countries, both from ASEAN plus countries like US, China, India and Japan as well as from other continents like Europe, South America, Oceania and Africa, stop and use facilities at Changi Naval Base."

Dr Ng noted that US ships and planes are more frequent users since the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and then-US Vice President Dan Quayle, that "facilitated the US' presence in this region and provided the security umbrella under which emerging economies in Asia thrived."

This MOU was updated by the Strategic Framework Agreement signed by PM Lee Hsien Loong and then-US President George W. Bush in 2005 and recently, both countries enhanced the Defence Cooperation Agreement in the US in 2015, he said.