SINGAPORE: In a wide-ranging speech in Malaysia on Monday (Apr 16), Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “step up” to the challenges in the region.
“It is to our intimate interest to do so,” Dr Ng said in his speech, which addressed political trends and security concerns in Asia, at the 5th Putrajaya Forum.
The minister said political trends that are gaining strength across the globe will have an impact on Asia in the next decade at the economic and strategic levels.
Highlighting the United States’ trade policies, he said: “The global commons of trade and finance lack champions, and indeed even the US, that spearheaded many of the previous initiatives for common markets and rules is now pursuing an 'America First' policy.
“It is likely that other countries will follow suit, to gain greater benefits for their own local economies.”
Underscoring the impact of the US-China rivalry on Asia, Dr Ng said other major powers like Japan, India and some in Europe will also want to assert their influence in this region.
“That jostling for pole positions may impact small countries like Singapore and Malaysia that will be put into the uncomfortable position to choose sides.”
He said existing fora, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), require more time to address the “structural weakness” in the regional security architecture.
“The ADMM-Plus in particular is the most important defence and security platform for this region and we must redouble efforts to build its resilience and enhance its relevance,” Dr Ng added.
Dr Ng also highlighted the need for continued security cooperation among ASEAN countries in order to ensure the region’s stability and progress amid increasing dangers in Asia, such as terrorism and the instability on the Korean Peninsula.
Citing Singapore’s efforts to tackle the security challenges as 2018 Chair of the ADMM, Dr Ng outlined three focus areas: Enhancing counter-terrorism cooperation through leveraging militaries’ niche capabilities, strengthening regional capability against chemical, biological, and radiological threats and establishing practical confidence building measures and code for unplanned encounters at sea and in the air.
Dr Ng said the strategies have received unanimous support from ASEAN defence ministers and reiterated the need for members to work together to “avoid the perils” in order to enjoy stability and progress.