SINGAPORE is supporting a call for claimant states to sign an agreement that forbids the first use of force in the ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen revealed this at the closing session of the Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday, making him the first Asean defence minister to publicly back such a proposal.
This came on the back of Vietnamese Defence Minister Phung Quang Thanh's suggestion at the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) on May 7 that nations in the 10-member Asean grouping should consider adopting the "no first use of force" agreement.
Addressing top defence officials from the region, Europe and the United States, Dr Ng said this was one "practical way" in which Asean countries and its dialogue partners can settle disputes peacefully.
Asean has 10 dialogue partners including China, which has claimed sovereignty over most of the resource-rich South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel island chains.
But Taiwan and Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have also laid claim to portions of the territories.
Tensions have flared up over the competing territorial claims but the Asean claimant states have reached a consensus and will negotiate a binding code of conduct with China.
Vietnam's Deputy National Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh, who also delievered a speech on Sinday, said that Hanoi hopes Asean nations will adopt the "no first use of force" agreement to build up "mutual trust" before extending it to the Asia Pacific region.