Some countries in Asia are using foreign policy as "a convenient means to shift attention away from domestic issues", said Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing yesterday.
Such behaviour can "precipitate state-to-state tensions and undermine regional stability", he warned in his speech delivered at the Asia Pacific Security Conference held here.
He attributed this trend to a host of factors, such as growing nationalism, economic growth, and increased competition for resources in the region.
Mr Chan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, did not name any particular country in this part of his speech.
But his comments come after Singapore complained about Indonesia's decision to name a new warship after Indonesian marines who bombed an Orchard Road building in 1965.
Indonesia has refused to rename the ship. It also pulled out its senior military leaders from the Singapore Airshow.
Indonesia said the pullout was due to Mr Chan cancelling a meeting scheduled for this week. Singapore's Defence Ministry has declined to comment on this.
Yesterday, Mr Chan said the combination of growing populations and better-educated workforces presents huge potential for regional prosperity, but it has also caused nations to face competing demands for resources and can lead to "other contests in the perception of might".
As economic stakes increase and the competition for resources in the region intensifies, "countries are also likely to be more assertive in defending their strategic and perceived interests", he said.
Growing nationalism has "exacerbated historical animosities". This in turn increases pressure on governments to be seen as defending these interests and "redressing real and perceived historical wrongs", he said.
The region has also seen unequal distribution of growth, which means some countries are "in conditions of relative inadequacy".
Thus, the region needs "wise and strong" leaders who appreciate that there is much more to gain through cooperation than conflict.
Leaders also should be "courageous" and not "succumb to domestic pressures or nationalistic pursuits against the greater good of the region", he said, adding that political efforts should also be backed by practical military cooperation.
Get MyPaper for more stories.