Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the Fifth Plenary Session on "Raising the Bar for Regional Security Cooperation" at the Shangri-La Dialogue on 3 Jun 18

Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the Fifth Plenary Session on "Raising the Bar for Regional Security Cooperation" at the Shangri-La Dialogue on 3 Jun 18

"Adapting to the Changing Rules of the Game"

Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD)

Dr John Chipman, my fellow Ministers, Minister Parly, Secretary Williamson, first, let me on behalf of the Singapore Government, together with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister of State Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State Maliki, wish you all well and hope that you have found your time at Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) productive and enjoyable. We want to thank you for your contributions to the SLD. Let me also ask our Muslim friends and colleagues for your understanding, that we have held the SLD in the midst of Ramadan.

Your presence, incisive remarks and probing questions are reasons why the SLD is the premier security forum for Asia today. A record number of Ministers attended this year - 40 Ministers from 50 countries - a significant jump, for those of you who were here at the inaugural SLD in 2002 when only 12 (Ministers) attended. That show of support is a sure sign that SLD does play a role in promoting regional security. It is a forum that is needed. I would like to thank John Chipman and his able team at IISS for being steady and reliable sherpas to guide us as we ascend the heights of defence diplomacy. Let me also record our thanks to the people who have kept us safe over this weekend. As you walk through the many security barriers, you will notice that our Home Team, our Police and our Civil Defence Force have been busy at work for us to be able to deliberate without fear and during this SLD, as well as my Singapore Armed Forces officers who have attended to your needs.

Changing Rules of the Game

The SLD is now in its 17th year, which is a relatively young forum but one that is very much needed in an Asia that has seen accelerated changes these past two decades. To say that the Asia-Pacific region is undergoing a tremendous change is to state the obvious. As with other regions, countries here are subject to global trends but the impact has been amplified because the main protagonists - US, China, India amongst them - hold inordinate influence for Asia. The rules-based order constructed post-World War II - both in trade and security - has not broken down and continues to serve us well. However, it is plainly obvious that local politics and the shift in relative strengths of global or regional powers are in fact changing the rules of the international order previously entrenched.

The US, the champion of the entrenched order of Globalisation 1.0, is itself re-visiting the status quo, to address perceived inequities. Through the "America First" policy under the current Trump Administration, the US' recent unilateral tariffs on steel and aluminium imports based on national security grounds are but one manifestation of that national stance. The US' military requirements for steel and aluminium may only represent 3 percent of the total US production but the US has put forth its case for such a unilateral action, whether or not other countries accept that it complies with World Trade Organisation rules, let alone principles.

Similarly for security reasons, claimant states in the South China Sea have taken unilateral actions in disputed areas to protect their own core interests. China stakes its claims on historical grounds and, despite the rulings of The Hague tribunal brought about by the Philippines, has intensified its build-up of Imagery, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and even counter-offensive weapon systems on disputed territories, as a forward position against possible encirclement.
In both instances, core security considerations have been used to justify, if not make imperative the need for such actions. Whatever the merits of arguments, these deviations from global norms challenge the status quo and accepted rules which have hitherto benefitted Asia, and the regions beyond. All of us would agree that it is in our collective interest to preserve a system that has lifted millions in Asia from poverty. We have heard the phrase "rules-based order" used again and again at this forum. For ASEAN alone, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita has grown 30 times in the last half century. China and India particularly have grown exponentially - on average 10% and 6% respectively each year. This explains why in a reversal of roles with the US, it was Chinese President Xi Jinping who champions globalisation. In his keynote address at the recent 2018 Boao Forum for Asia - 

"We should… firmly uphold the international order and system underpinned by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter… We must ensure that various security mechanisms coordinate with each other in an inclusive and complementary manner rather than undercut each other… We should stay committed to openness, connectivity and mutual benefits, build an open global economy and reinforce cooperation within… multilateral frameworks." 
All very much in keeping with all the speakers that have said so and repeated those comments on this podium. Wise words indeed as China understands that for Asia to continue to prosper, it does need the stability that only a rules-based order can provide. But it is also clear from the actions of each, that both China and the US are attempting to address perceived inequalities and accepted principles or practices which disadvantage them.

Multi-Polarity in Globalisation 2.0

The US and China, by virtue of their sheer size, both first and second militarily and economically, will be critical players in this evolution to Globalisation 2.0, whether by their application or articulation of new rules. Many speakers before me have sounded a cautionary note that in this process, if the global commons are not preserved, or worse, fracture into de facto or formal trading and security alliances, then all of us are in for a rough time ahead. It would be a lose-lose scenario for the world if the US and China are unwilling to work together for an inclusive system that both large and small states benefit from, and where rules that apply to all. We hope that enlightened minds and leadership will prevail and the US and China avoid a trade war which can only lead to more losers than winners.

Other regional powers too exert considerable influence either individually or as a collective voice for temperance and reason. The US-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship for the Asia-Pacific, but the state of relations among Northeast Asian states is also of critical importance for stability. The US-DPRK Singapore Summit is proposed to take place on 12 June. Important as it is, the relationship of China, Japan and South Korea will need to be developed beyond that of the North Korea issue to address historical animosities. I recently visited Japan and was very much encouraged by my colleague Defence Minister Onodera's assurance that Japan understands the over-riding calculus in shifting geo-politics. Minister Onodera said that the Japan Self-Defense Forces will be stepping up its engagement with the People's Liberation Army after a six-year hiatus. It is also welcome news that China and Japan will be setting up a security hotline to defuse tensions during air and maritime incidents. China, Japan and South Korea have also recently reconvened a trilateral summit at the ministerial level to strengthen dialogue and cooperation across multiple domains. All of us, I am sure here, strongly encourage that détente and increasing engagement among them.

I am sure too that many of you here are delighted that India has indicated its firm commitment to the region, particularly with Prime Minister (PM) Modi's presence and eloquent speech at this SLD. India will take concrete steps to effect its "Act East" policy. As PM Modi announced, Singapore and India will start a new maritime exercise in the Andaman Sea involving both our countries and other interested countries.

I am also very glad that other European powers, France, Germany and the UK, have also indicated their physical commitment to this region. I want to thank the both of you for affirming the importance of this region and whether you are going to send 7, 9, 11, 13 or 15 ships, let me assure you that the Changi Naval Base will seek to accommodate your presence The renewed vigour of these countries in our region reflect the recognition as well as concern about the stability of Asia, because it contains key international maritime and air routes that are essential to the functioning of global commerce and markets. The SLD, summitries and bilateral engagements add to this existing multilateral platforms such as the Five Powers Defence Arrangements (FPDA) which this year commemorates its 47th year. The security threats today are vastly different from what they were when the FPDA was conceived, but the FPDA remains a key peg for the security of Malaysia and Singapore.

Breaking New Ground through ASEAN

This web of mutually reinforcing bilateral and multilateral engagements form the foundation of a strong security architecture for the Asia-Pacific, or Indo-Pacific, of which ASEAN and the 18-nation ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) remain the cornerstone. But, in leading the charge, the ADMM-Plus will also need to adapt to new realities and break new ground to stay relevant.
Just over a week from now, the world will be watching avidly the US-DPRK Singapore Summit and its outcome. On a less dramatic but I think no less important in its impact, the world will also watch how ASEAN and China work together to conclude the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, because both these events, both the process and outcome of the COC will shape Globalisation 2.0. A substantive and effective COC which addresses key concerns of claimant states as well as that of user states will do much to boost confidence and promote stability.

Another confidence building measure is the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise to be held later this year. All ASEAN countries have agreed to participate and send ships or troops to this exercise. Singapore as the ASEAN chair will be co-directors with China for that exercise, and we will host the Table-Top Exercise in Singapore, in August. 

The ADMM-Plus countries are also working closely to deal with terrorism. The Marawi incident last year and the horrendous suicide bombings by families in Indonesia recently are stark reminders that the threat of terrorist attacks to cities in ASEAN, including western targets in them, is at the highest since the 2002 Bali bomb blast. We ignore the threat at our peril and Singapore is sparing no effort in pushing for more intelligence and military exchanges against terrorism.

As part of the ADMM agenda this year, Singapore has proposed its "Resilience, Response, and Recovery" framework against terrorism. We are working hard to beef up intelligence sharing between our countries. Singapore will host a Track 1.5 Counter-Terrorism (CT) Symposium in October this year. 

With increasing contestation in the air and sea, we will need mechanisms that can mitigate or prevent mistakes. We are pleased that the ADMM-Plus navies agreed to adopt the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in November last year. We are developing a set of guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft for ASEAN, which we hope to adopt at the 12th ADMM in October this year before expanding it to the ADMM-Plus. If successfully concluded, the air guidelines will be the first multilateral practical confidence-building measures of its kind in the world.

The ADMM is also building a network of ASEAN Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) defence experts whose expertise can be drawn from online.

There has been much talk that with the growth of China, India and ASEAN, the centre of gravity has shifted eastwards. But this ASEAN or Asian century can only be realised if all countries, big and small, take collective efforts to tackle our security and economic challenges together. We must succeed in this endeavour because a thriving, prosperous and stable Asia will bring to the world enormous benefits. Let me again thank all of you for your presence and contributions to this year's SLD and many more. Thank you very much.

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