Shangri-La Dialogue: Ukraine war a hot topic at ministerial roundtable discussion

(Clockwise from left) US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Australia's Defence Minister Richard Marles and China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe (seated) at a ministerial roundtable luncheon at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit on June 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The war in Ukraine and its implications dominated a roundtable discussion between 27 visiting ministers and their representatives at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference on Saturday (June 11).

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who hosted the session, said there was significant discussion on the conflict that started in February, including its global consequences, such as inflationary pressures and supply shocks.

These aftershocks also came as a result of another "epochal, once-in-a-century" event - the Covid-19 pandemic, he told reporters in an interview after the roundtable.

The roundtable is a regular feature of the Shangri-La Dialogue, held this weekend at the Shangri-La Hotel after being stopped for two years owing to the pandemic.

Dr Ng said that there was a realisation on what a continued war in Ukraine would mean for the rest of the world, including the price that Ukraine, Russia, and Europe have to pay.

But there was also discussion on what it would mean if the world looks the other way and allows aggression and violations of the UN Charter to proceed, he added.

"So there were difficult issues but I would say that the ministers didn't shy from them."

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the ministers discussed the implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on the loss of lives, international peace, as well as on the resilience of supply chains and the stability of markets.

Several of them also exchanged views on how the situation would affect the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the world.

The participants included United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, who sat across each other at the table. Other countries who attended were Malaysia, Canada, Brunei, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Qatar.

Ukraine was represented by its Deputy Foreign Minister Dmytro Senik.

The representatives reaffirmed the importance of upholding a rules-based international order and agreed on the fundamental importance of adhering to states' obligations under international law and the UN Charter, added Mindef.

Asked what was the impact of the Ukraine war on how Asean would manage the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), Dr Ng said while there is consensus that the global community has to send the right message when a "sacred law" is broken, preventing such conflicts require practical efforts.

The ADMM-Plus is a dialogue between Asean and its eight partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.

Dr Ng said: "You can't invade another country, because that's the whole basis that our countries exist. That is principle. But in practicality, there is also the understanding that if you want to prevent that, principles alone may not work - it has to be accompanied by practical measures.

"Trust takes time to build, and you're only as good as your last act… I would say that in that sense, the Ukraine invasion has re-emphasised for Asean and Asean-Plus ministers how important it is to build trust in times of peace."

Separately, Malaysia's Senior Minister for Defence Hishammuddin Hussein called on Dr Ng on Saturday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Both ministers reaffirmed the long-standing bilateral relationship and cooperation during the meeting, said Mindef.

They discussed common security challenges including terrorism and maritime security, as well as ways to maintain and strengthen the bilateral defence ties between both armed forces.

They also agreed to continue cooperation through regional multilateral platforms, including the ADMM, ADMM-Plus and the Five Power Defence Arrangements to enhance regional security and stability, added Mindef.

Dr Ng also met French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu, who is on his first visit to Singapore in this role since being appointed last month. 

At the Shangri-La hotel, both ministers witnessed the signing of a Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement, which facilitates the provision of logistics support between the armed forces of France and Singapore. 

It was signed by Singapore Armed Forces Chief of Staff-Joint Staff, Brigadier-General Kelvin Fan and French Armed Forces Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Éric Autellet. 

Dr Ng also met his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi and Ms Kajsa Ollongren, Netherlands’ Defence Minister, on Saturday.

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