To ease the escalating tensions between the United States (US) and China, both countries need to have meaningful interactions that deal with the issues.
"Many countries including US and China accept that more interactions are better... but many expressed (that they) needed interactions which didn't avoid the issues, (and) didn't just focus on general statements," he said.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen made this point on the sidelines of the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD). He was speaking to the media after hosting a Ministerial Roundtable on the second day of the Dialogue on 1 Jun.
A regular feature of the Dialogue, the Roundtable is a platform for ministers to engage in frank and open discussions on key security issues. Dr Ng hosted 22 visiting ministers, including the US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense General (GEN) Wei Fenghe, and their representatives to the discussion this year.
Deeper engagement needed
Dr Ng also said that the ministers agreed that both the US and China have to first engage each other openly to address issues arising from their rivalry and from there, proceed to deal with the specific issues.
"It is just not possible to solve such a complicated, strategic competition in one fell swoop or overnight. I thought it was positive that both the US and China, and other countries wanted meaningful, direct interactions which dealt with problems directly," he said.
Dr Ng also shared that all ministers were reassured after speaking to Mr Shanahan and GEN Wei at the Roundtable meeting.
"Both Secretary Shanahan and Minister Wei talked about how you could improve understanding, and how there were common goals…that despite the disputes there were common grounds - in terms of (maintaining) a prosperous region and the policies which benefited all states," said Dr Ng.
Boosting regional security
At the opening plenary session of the Dialogue on 1 Jun, Mr Shanahan outlined the US' strategy for regional security, and emphasised that the US is committing resources to carry out the strategy. But at the same time, countries in the region should also invest more in their defence capabilities.
When asked if Singapore would boost its investment in defence, Dr Ng said that all countries in the region should invest in their own defence capabilities. He added that there was an agreement among all defence ministers – that while they prepare for conflict and war, their primary objective was to prevent unnecessary conflicts.
He added: "The cost of conflict is so high, so prohibitive, so punishing on our own citizens that it's unthinkable, and one never wishes it.
"And (while) we recognise that having a strong defence is good deterrence…resolving disputes through peaceful means is certainly better than conflict."
Discussions on the sidelines
Earlier in the morning, Dr Ng also hosted a meeting between the defence ministers from the Five Power Defence Arrrangments (FPDA) member states on the sidelines of the Dialogue.
They were: Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, Malaysian Minister of Defence Mohamad Sabu, New Zealand's Minister of Defence Ron Mark, and the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt.
During the meeting, the ministers reaffirmed their nations' commitment to the FPDA and its importance as a constructive, transparent, and peaceful arrangement in the region.
Dr Ng also met French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly. Both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening bilateral defence relations, such as through Navy and Air Force cooperation. He also met other ministers including Bruneian Second Minister of Defence Major-General (MG) (Rtd) Haji Awang Halbi.
Additionally, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General (LG) Melvyn Ong, hosted 15 chiefs of defence forces and their senior military representatives to a private luncheon where they discussed current security and defence issues.