SINGAPORE: ASEAN defence ministers on Wednesday (May 25) signed a joint declaration after the 10th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Vientiane, Laos, laying out common commitments and goals for defence cooperationand regional security.
According to a news release by Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the joint declaration "underscored the ADMM’s resolve to cooperate internationally and regionally to combat the transnational threat of terrorism, as well as its commitment to (practise) and observe international protocols such as the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES)."
MINDEF said that during the ADMM, the ministers discussed regional security issues and commended the good progress in practical cooperation under the ambit of the ADMM and the ADMM-Plus, which includes the ASEAN countries and eight "Plus" countries - Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US.
There was "strong commitment to enhance cooperation to address the terrorist threat as well as prevent terrorism and violent extremism from gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia," MINDEF added.
The ministers agreed that defence and military establishments can play a key role in the fight against terrorism, such as by building up information and intelligence-sharing platforms, combining resources for coordinated operations and enhancing confidence and capability building mechanisms such as the recently-concluded ADMM-Plus Maritime Security and Counter-Terrorism Exercise, according to the news release.
ADMM WAS A "SUCCESSFUL MEETING": DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN
On the sidelines of the ADMM, Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen touched on what he said were the two main topics of the defence ministers' speeches - terror threats and the South China Sea.
"I think we all recognise that the threat of terrorism is real. It can potentially disrupt the region if we allow either the ideology of terror groups like ISIS, or if the networks are formed and training camps are embedded within our region," he said.
From Singapore's point of view, the Defence Minister said he shared that ASEAN countries could do more in terms of information sharing and intelligence, pool resources for the issue and conduct joint operations where possible.
According to him, the defence ministers also urged for a quick resolution of the Code of Conduct and interim mechanisms that could de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea area, such as the Direct Communications Link and the observance of CUES. Singapore also proposed to extend CUES to non-military vessels, he added.
"I would in general say that it was a successful meeting and we talked at length about these two challenges and how we would want to deal with it collectively," Dr Ng concluded.
Elaborating on his remarks in a Facebook post on Wednesday night, Dr Ng wrote: "If the ideology of terrorist groups like ISIS is allowed to take root among our people or worse still, if training camps proliferate in any one of ASEAN countries, then the whole region will be thrown into turmoil for decades. Our economies, our peaceful way of life will be seriously threatened."
As part of the countries' collective resolve to combat terrorism, Singapore will also share maritime intelligence from the Information Fusion Centre at Changi, the minister added.
Aside from the ADMM, the defence ministers also had an informal meeting with the Chinese Minister of National Defense General Chang Wanquan, during which they welcomed stronger practical cooperation between ASEAN and China, MINDEF said.
During the meeting, Dr Ng emphasised the importance of developing protocols and norms of behaviour to reduce tensions and misunderstandings in the region. His recommendations included the expansion of CUES to white shipping, an establishment of a code of conduct for submarine safety and a protocol to regulate unplanned air-to-air military encounters, MINDEF added.
At the last ADMM-Plus meeting in Kuala Lumpur last November, plans for a joint declaration were scrapped due to disagreements between the US and China.