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US presence key to region’s security, says Ng

WASHINGTON — Amid a changing regional landscape, the United States’ continued presence in the Asia-Pacific is essential in ensuring peace and progress, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said today (Dec 10).

US presence key to region’s security, says Ng

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Singapore's Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON — Amid a changing regional landscape, the United States’ continued presence in the Asia-Pacific is essential in ensuring peace and progress, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said today (Dec 10).

The US’ resolve to continue its role as a “dominant and stable force” for the region is critical, he said. “This region — ASEAN-centrality notwithstanding — is far from having the mature alliances and partnerships that Europe has formed, such as the EU (European Union) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization),” Dr Ng said. 

“Our region can ill afford the uncertainties that Europe faced after the Libyan crisis in 2011 and the Ukraine crisis in 2014. It would be too unsettling and could cascade a series of undesirable and unthought-of outcomes for the Asia-Pacific region.” 

Speaking at an event held at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Dr Ng, who is on an official visit to the US, pointed out that over the past decade, military spending in Asia and Oceania increased by about 62 per cent — 10 times more than the increase in Europe’s military spending. 

“In fact, in absolute terms, military spending in Asia alone, at around US$400 billion (S$561.3 billion), exceeded that of Europe last year,” he said. 

Earlier this week, Singapore agreed to host a deployment of US surveillance planes for the first time this month, a move that drew a response from China saying that the  deployment was aimed at militarising the region and was detrimental to regional peace. The deployment of the US’ P-8 Poseidon planes surveillance planes comes at a time of heightened tensions in the South China Sea over China’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims there.

Commenting on the deployment for the first time, Dr Ng referred to it as well as a 2012 agreement for the US to rotationally deploy up to four Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore in his speech. “Singapore has consistently believed that the US, whose presence in the Asia-Pacific is a force for regional peace and stability, plays a critical role in the security architecture of the region,” he said.

Dr Ng added that it was because of this belief that following the closure of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay in the Philippines, Singapore signed the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding with the US, which facilitated the US’ access to Singapore’s air and naval bases. 

He noted that for the past seven decades, the US was a pre-eminent global power and provided security for the Asia-Pacific region — giving the region the stability needed for its emerging economies to thrive. However, a “new accommodation” needs to be found with the rising powers such as China and India, as well as the national aspirations of ASEAN member states, he said. 

Dr Ng reiterated that greater strategic trust among stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific was vital in ensuring the region’s continued peace and stability, and underscored the need to promote greater dialogue and practical cooperation. He said: “As critical as the US’ continued presence in the Asia-Pacific is, the US alone cannot ensure continued peace and stability. To do so, we need to build greater strategic trust among all stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific.”

Citing examples such as the Malacca Straits patrols, Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre, and the upcoming ADMM-Plus Maritime Security and Counter-Terrorism exercise, he added: “Over the past two decades, regional stakeholders have institutionalised new platforms … Our defence establishments are coming together to deal with non-traditional security threats.”  

Following his speech at CNAS, Dr Ng met former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He also held meetings with Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce. 

Earlier, Dr Ng had discussions with US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and Congressional Singapore Caucus Co-Chairs, Congressman Denny Heck and Congressman Bradley Byrne.

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