Singapore and Australia are good friends, and their partnership is part of a network of relationships among countries in the Asia-Pacific that lend stability to the region, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
"We are collaborating to build an open and inclusive regional security architecture, working to keep international trading open and to enhance regional trading arrangements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership," he said.
He added: "Not everybody is in on every arrangement, but collectively the arrangements add up to a constructive and robust network of cooperation and architecture."
Mr Lee was speaking at a press conference with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull after they witnessed the signing of four Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreements. One of the agreements was for a A$2.25 billion (S$2.35 billion) defence deal that will see more Singapore troops being trained in Australia.
Asked by a reporter if this could make Singapore and Australia appear as a threat to other countries in the region, especially China, Mr Lee said he did not believe so.
"We've been friends for a very long time, I don't think Singapore and Australia together could possibly be seen as a bloc... we are not treaty allies and neither are we opposed to any countries in the region."
He added that China is the largest trading partner for both nations.
The prime ministers were also asked about the United States' presence in the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Lee said it was crucial for the US to engage the region on a broad range of areas including security, as well as economic and people-to- people ties. He cited the US Seventh Fleet, based in Japan since World War II, and the TPP as key aspects of this. "It's the intent of the US to participate actively and constructively, cooperatively with the countries in the region, which makes it a valuable and important partner to us," he added.
Agreeing, Mr Turnbull said the US presence in the region has been "the foundation of our prosperity for the last 40 years".
The "extraordinary growth, perhaps most of all in China, has been underpinned by that foundation of peace", he said.
Both leaders also expressed their hope for the ratification of the TPP soon. Mr Lee also underscored the need for good relations between the US and China, and the US and Japan, which would give them a platform to discuss difficult issues such as the South China Sea.
"(It will) enable them to discuss individual difficult issues like the South China Sea, in a broader context, so that there are restraints on pushing difficult problems over the limit. At the same time, there's a possibility of seeing them within perspective, and therefore managing them and preventing them from getting out of control," he said.
In a joint statement, the two leaders said Singapore and Australia had shared interests in freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded trade in the South China Sea.
They urged respect for legal and diplomatic processes and international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in resolving the maritime dispute.
Both leaders also called on all parties involved to "avoid actions that would escalate tensions, including the further militarisation of outposts in the South China Sea".