Singapore wants to be a place to contest ideas, share perspectives: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen hopes Singapore can provide a "safe physical and intellectual haven" for new paths to be forged.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen hopes Singapore can provide a "safe physical and intellectual haven" for new paths to be forged.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Singapore can be a place for progressive minds to contest ideas and share perspectives, and it should play this small but useful role to advance peace and humanity, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Wednesday (June 27).

Citing the decision to host denuclearisation talks between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this month, Dr Ng said he hopes Singapore can provide a "safe physical and intellectual haven" for new paths to be forged.

"We do not seek only to gather people who agree," Dr Ng said in his welcome address to 400 delegates at the inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel in Orchard.

The Republic should hold high-level meetings for "the cause of peace and to enable the progress of humanity", Dr Ng said.

Given its humble beginnings, Singapore did not start out with the aspiration to be a venue for historic meetings, Dr Ng noted.

"It would have been misplaced to think that far and aim that high when we were too poor with many communal problems, even existential challenges to solve," he said.

Even as Singapore developed, it did not proffer itself for other prominent summits that eventually took place here, such as those between Chinese and Taiwanese leaders in 1993 and 2017.

Dr Ng said he hoped that the Singapore Defence Technology Summit could help countries deal with the blessings and challenges from technological disruptions. Measures must be taken, for example, to ensure that new and useful technologies such as cloud-based services and data analytics do not undermine collective security.

Organisers, led by the Singapore Defence Science and Technology Agency, did "much soul-searching before deciding to hold one more" summit, Dr Ng said, while noting the already overcrowded landscape of meetings and conventions.

Furthermore, it was not intuitive for leaders of security and defence technology to meet, he added.

"After all, would not the expected default be to advance your own domain expertise, hide your secrets and steal a march on your competitors?"

But the enthusiastic response across 17 countries affirmed the organisers' belief in promoting defence technology for society's benefit, Dr Ng said.

Policymakers, academics and industry experts are among those attending the three-day summit, which includes panel sessions and site visits. Topics such as cyber security, unmanned autonomous vehicles and big data are on the agenda.