Singapore, China mark progress in defence ties

Singapore and China have made progress in bilateral defence ties in the past year under a four-point agreement, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan, as they pledged to further strengthen military ties between both countries.

"They also discussed China's constructive role in the regional security architecture through its participation in platforms such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), and the Shangri-La Dialogue," Mindef said in a statement yesterday.

The four-point consensus - a key outcome of Dr Ng's visit to China in November last year - saw both sides pledging to boost their defence relationship, based on mutual respect and accommodating each other's security concerns for mutual trust.

Both sides also agreed to enhance dialogue and mutual understanding through regular high-level meetings and strategic consultation, promote confidence-building and mutual trust through practical co-operation, like joint training exercises, as well as deepen their friendship through increased exchanges and dialogues between both militaries.

Dr Ng met General Chang yesterday - the first day of his three-day visit to China - ahead of the inaugural, two-day China-ASEAN Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting, which began yesterday.

Dr Ng is also attending the three-day Xiangshan Forum - a regional security dialogue billed as China's version of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore - which begins today.

ASEAN defence officials already meet regularly with counterparts from countries like China, Japan and the United States, and hold joint exercises under the ADMM-Plus.

But China believes hosting the defence meet would improve mutual trust amid tensions over its maritime disputes with four ASEAN states - Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia - in the South China Sea, said analysts.

Beijing yesterday warned that it would "firmly oppose" any infringement of its sovereignty after Washington said it would soon send warships close to China's "artificial islands" in the disputed waters.

China-ASEAN expert Xu Liping told The Straits Times that Beijing is hoping to plug a missing gap through the summit, adding that its 10-plus co-operation platforms with ASEAN do not involve defence.

"It could be a first step towards a defence co-operation platform, which could see both sides holding summits and setting up task forces to tackle challenges such as counter-terrorism," said Dr Xu, who is from the China Academy of Social Sciences.

China's move was believed to be prompted by a US proposal, in mid-2013, to host an informal defence summit with ASEAN, which took place for the first time in Hawaii in April last year.

Beijing's proposal, made at the 2013 ASEAN-China summit, had elicited a non-committal response from the grouping at the time.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies analyst Li Mingjiang said ASEAN states that have maritime spats with China might be reluctant to give Beijing an opportunity to improve its regional security image through the hosting of the informal summit.

"At the same time, ASEAN countries, to different degrees, want to engage with China in the defence and security arenas so they can better understand its intentions, and help China better understand their positions and expectations."

This article was first published on October 16, 2015.
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