Singapore-Aussie deal a win-win

The recently concluded deal between Singapore and Australia looks set to boost existing ties by upgrading trade, educational and defence links.

The deal, which both governments announced last week, is the result of the groundwork laid since the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in June last year.

But what caught the eye of many was Singapore's bigger military footprint Down Under.

Singapore troops, who have already been training in Queensland's Shoalwater Bay since 1990, will be allowed to continue training in Australia for 25 years. In return, Singapore will spend A$2.25 billion (S$2.27 billion) over the same period on building new military facilities, such as a live-firing range for big guns and an expanded training space.

This will allow more than 14,000 Singapore Armed Forces troops to test their skills and war machines in a "battlefield" more than 10 times the size of Singapore, and give combat training, as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen calls it, a "quantum leap".

What has surprised some commentators is how Singapore was willing to pick up the tab, while the United States and Australia - both staunch allies - are still disputing who should foot the bill to increase the presence of the US Marine Corps in northern Australia.

But the Singapore-Australia deal is logical for the Republic as it is hamstrung by limited land and air space. To allow troops to do what they are unable to do in Singapore, it has to look elsewhere.

That is why the Republic has struck deals with a dozen countries, including the United States, Germany and Brunei, to conduct overseas training.

Australians have benefited from the economic spin-offs, with the annual Wallaby war games estimated to plough A$35 million back into the local economy.The same quid pro quo applies to the other partners that Singapore has training arrangements with. The closer friendship with Australia does not come at the expense of the strong links it has with other countries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore-Aussie deal a win-win'. Print Edition | Subscribe