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Countries keen to de-escalate regional tensions: Ng Eng Hen

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen says there is a willingness among countries to "de-escalate tensions" in the region.

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen says there is a willingness among countries to "de-escalate tensions" in the region.

The challenge however, lies in translating that into practical measures for conflict resolution.

He said this on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defence and security forum now on in Singapore.

Tensions have gone up this year, compared with previous years.

They include those in the South and East China Seas, as well as the situation in Ukraine.

But after a ministerial lunch with defence leaders of 21 countries, including the US, China and Japan, Dr Ng Eng Hen said there is a good basis to work from, to improve matters.

"There was commonality that we wanted to de-escalate situations. We want situations to de-escalate," said Dr Ng. "We recognise that progress is dependent on peace and stability."

Leaders agreed the Asia Pacific region holds great promise, with a vibrant economy and positive growth trajectories.

The question is how to move forward.

Dr Ng said there is currently a "trust deficit" among nations in the region, a key point to emerge from the lunch.

"There were not enough confidence building measures and a shared resolve that fighting over territories would ultimately lead to a lot of pain, a lot of loss," he said. "And that conflict avoidance was a productive outcome."

And Dr Ng stressed that the world's problems cannot be solved through one lunch.

"There was a conviction that as defence leaders of our individual nations, that we had a lot of work cut out for us, that we have to seriously think of mechanisms and practices that can allow us to de-escalate tensions."

On suggestions that plenary sessions had been tense since the opening of the Shangri-la Dialogue on Friday, Dr Ng said this was a positive.

He would rather the sessions deal with the issues, than be 'token' in nature. 

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