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Need for safeguards to mitigate regional conflicts: Ng

Need for safeguards to mitigate regional conflicts: Ng
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SINGAPORE — When it comes to avoidance of conflict, Asia lacks the collective “never again” resolve that bound all of Europe after two World Wars with the political will to create formal structures and alliances to avoid war, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

There are also fewer safeguards and structures to mitigate fallouts in Asia, where “unresolved historical baggage and animosities” among China, Japan and South Korea are deeply felt, while defence spending has risen, against world trends.

However, such a resolve exists in countries such as China, Japan and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the challenge is to ensure these countries’ aspirations and ambitions intersect as widely as possible for peace and stability, said Dr Ng.

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday — which has been marked by strong words exchanged between the United States, China and Japan — Dr Ng noted, for instance, that China does not want a repeat of the “humiliation and unequal treaties” that it was subjected to in the 19th century and wants to “stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations and contribute to international society”.

Japan, meanwhile, wants to “move on from the baggage of World War II”. “Never again does Japan want to see the horrific destruction from two atomic bombs; Japan wants to move forward and claim its rightful place in the global economy of the 21st century as a ‘normal’ country,” Dr Ng said.

Asia must, therefore, build more resilient mechanisms to forge consensus and political will on preventing and mitigating conflicts, said Dr Ng, who cited the Shangri-La Dialogue, humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief missions, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM-Plus as platforms that could build trust.

Referring to the 18-nation military exercise under the ADMM-Plus during a half-hour dialogue after his speech, Dr Ng said: “US, Chinese, Japanese soldiers all performing the same functions spoke volumes of the confidence building that occurred.”

During the dialogue, Dr Ng also reiterated Singapore’s position on US presence in the region, calling it a benign and stabilising force over the past 50 years. “Without the security that the US provided, this region (including China) could not have progressed as fast, if at all,” he said.

Dr Ng, who was responding to a question on America’s role in Asia, also said a US withdrawal from the region would be catastrophic.

“While the US continues to play a dominant role, it has to accommodate other rising powers, including China, India, ASEAN, and it is that accommodation that we are presently grappling with,” he said.

“I took to heart and it was actually a positive comment by General Wang (Guanzhong) just now, who said we should expect from time to time in this process of accommodation that China and US will not always agree. And it was a very mature view, but that they continue to move forward,” he added.

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