“What will Singapore do if the US departs from its parts of rebalance to Asia strategy?”
The non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked this question in the Parliament House to the Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday (10 Nov).
Mr Tan had asked how Singapore would lessen the costs and risks that would arise should there be a major American departure from its current strategy of a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.
Mr Tan also asked what the Government’s plans were if the United States’ alliances with its existing allies were to weaken, or if otherwise strengthen.
Observers had thought that American policy might shift under Donald Trump who will take office in the coming January; hence the questions.
While under the Obama administration the US had spent considerable effort strengthening ties with Asia as part of a strategy to rebalance its military and diplomatic interests towards the region, the observers suggested the reverse for Trump.
In answer the Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament yesterday, “Singapore’s defence and foreign policy as an independent, sovereign nation will continue to be based on positioning itself in the best possible position to survive and progress.”
“Singapore must dictate its policy based on its own interests,” Minister Ng said.
“Singapore is a small country and we will work with like-minded partners who pursue peace and stability in our region.”
“This is why we push for joint cooperation and exercises with other countries,” he added, “We seek to have as many friends as possible and we encourage countries to use our facilities – whether it’s Changi Naval Base or the air bases.”
Dr Ng did not acknowledge the “suggestion from observers” Mr Tan posed, instead, he said, “Whatever the calculations of other countries, whatever their foreign policies, we start from this important fundament: we seek to make sure that Singapore benefits the most in our foreign policy or defence policy. It’s predicated to make sure we position ourselves in the best possible position to survive and to compete and to make friends with as many countries as possible.”
Mr Ng said Singapore seeks to work with partners on common objectives, reminding this was why it joined the Five-Power Defence Arrangements in 1971 with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, requiring all five to consult in an external attack on Malaysia and Singapore.
“Together with other Asean countries, Singapore has also worked to build a security architecture that is inclusive and based on the rule of law, where peaceful settlements of disputes, dialogue, cooperation and non-provocation are the norm,” he said.
This led to the setting up of the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus in 2010, which includes China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the US and Russia, he explained.
He pointed, ships and submarines from countries including the US, China, India and Japan often stop and use facilities at Changi Naval Base.
In 1990 a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries, signed by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the then-US Vice-President Dan Quayle, facilitated the US’ presence in this region and provided the security umbrella under which emerging economies in Asia blossomed, Dr Ng noted.
US ships and planes have become more frequent users after this MOU, which was updated by the Strategic Framework Agreement signed by PM Lee Hsien Loong and then-US President George W. Bush in 2005.
Last year, both countries also signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement.
“As a matter of policy, Singapore will continue to partner like-minded countries to pursue peace and stability for our region,” said Dr Ng.
However, Dr Ng has not answered both questions asked by Mr Tan directly.