‘Asian defence platforms must meet regional needs’

SINGAPORE- Meetings that bring Asian countries together to discuss security issues cannot be copied from elsewhere but must evolve to meet the interests of regional countries, said Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Speaking at a defence exhibition in Brunei on Monday, Mr Chan said the security structures in this part of the world may not be similar to those elsewhere and they "should not be".

Such platforms must build trust, and pre-empt and resolve potential conflicts, said Mr Chan in his keynote speech at the fourth Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition 2013, outlining three principles that underpin the development of an Asian security architecture.

He noted that unlike Europe, security structures in Asia are "less mature". However, the unique challenges of the region will require its structures to be evolved, rather than be copied, he said, adding that Asia's security architecture is a "work in progress".

Citing the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, Mr Chan said these multilateral groupings complement each other to beef up the security environment here.

This Asian architecture should be underpinned by three principles. First, it must be open and inclusive to all countries, where "all stakeholders have a seat at the table to engage constructively in dialogue and tackle regional security challenges together".

Second, disagreements should be settled in accordance with international law, in which all sides exercise "maximum restraint and avoid escalating tensions or precipitating confrontations".

For instance, the seventh ADMM earlier this year allowed defence ministers to establish hotlines between countries to keep communication channels open to reduce tension in the South China Sea.

Third, a security platform should allow not only allow members to discuss issues, but also facilitate practical cooperation. This will promote confidence among countries by increasing transparency and minimising miscalculation.

Mr Chan said the conversations among military officials from different countries will build trust and reduce friction.

"This allows our officers to grow up together, knowing each other at a personal level when they are called upon to work with each other in operations."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.