Bigger and more regular joint training exercises are on the cards, under Singapore's plan to boost its military ties with China, said visiting Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday. He said he will propose such exercises and discuss new initiatives to boost dialogue and understanding through high-level exchanges when he meets his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan in Beijing today.
In China on a seven-day visit that ends today, Dr Ng had witnessed the close of the biggest joint war games between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Singapore Armed Forces in Nanjing on Sunday.
In a speech at the PLA National Defence University in Beijing yesterday, he mentioned the plans to boost military ties and expressed hopes that these will grow in tandem with bilateral relations.
Addressing more than 100 senior Chinese military officials, Dr Ng said China and Singapore, which celebrate 25 years of diplomatic ties next year, have built "a strong relationship with many key tangible achievements".
He also touched on why both countries found mutual benefits in cooperation and collaboration.
As a small country with five million people, Singapore, like many countries, can benefit from China, which has "abundant resources, especially manpower and very intelligent minds".
China, in turn, still wants to learn from Singapore and sends its officials to the Republic's learning institutes, he added.
"For China and Singapore, I believe that our differences complement our relationship, and we can learn from each other because we can share perspectives from different vantage points," he said.
Dr Ng said China and Singapore have each other's well-being in mind as the starting point, so "the more honest and open we can be with each other, the more our countries can benefit and grow together".
In his speech, Dr Ng also urged China "to take a leadership role to create conditions of lasting peace and stability".
While ASEAN countries have benefited under the strategic defence umbrella that the United States provided, Dr Ng said China has grown in influence and power. "By virtue of its strategic global weight, China has a crucial role to play in maintaining peace and stability in the region, and indeed globally," he said.
While the Asian century is of great promise, Dr Ng also pointed to risks and challenges.
Asia has seen simmering tensions due to competing claims in the East and South China Seas and the US' pivot to the region.
As more countries in the region spend more on defence, the spectre of instability has also grown, which Dr Ng said is "worrying".
Singapore is thus glad that leaders of the US, China and Japan - the three biggest economies worldwide - have met one another on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing this week, he said.
He singled out the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as an important first step to improve ties between the two states. "All countries hope that this will lead to further concrete measures that will provide assurance of regional stability in North-east Asia," he added.
Yesterday, Dr Ng called on Vice-President Li Yuanchao and General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.
On territorial disputes
Dr Ng Eng Hen took questions from Chinese military officials yesterday. Here are some excerpts:
Will the United States' backing of Japan's claims on the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku isles affect China-Japan ties?
"The meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a reassuring, bold and necessary act by both leaders. The meeting is an important first step to improve relations between China and Japan.
"We cannot be trapped by our history. We have to find a way to move forward... this is a difficult topic and not one that others can advise China and Japan on. The Chinese and Japanese people will have to decide: 'Will I move forward and how do I move forward?' For this relationship between China and Japan, I think the US takes a secondary role."
What is Singapore's view of the South China Sea territorial disputes between China and other countries?
"Singapore is not a claimant state (of territories in the South China Sea) so we can be more objective about this.
"Territorial disputes are always the most difficult issue to resolve... But there are ways to de-escalate the tensions. Freedom of navigation is easy for all to observe. I think ultimately, it boils down to political will, how much two disputing countries want to benefit rather than contest."
This article was first published on November 14, 2014.
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