SINGAPORE: Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe has reaffirmed that his country does not want any confrontation with the US in the South China Sea, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Wednesday (May 29).
Dr Ng was speaking to reporters after the two ministers held a meeting here, where they agreed to boost defence cooperation.
“We had a very comprehensive discussion on a wide range of issues, including the South China Sea,” Dr Ng said, noting that Gen Wei reiterated his commitment to the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
“And as for principles and specifics which underline the COC, General Wei reaffirmed China’s desire to not only have peace in this region, but not to have any confrontation, intended or otherwise, with the United States.”
Last August, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed on a single draft document that will form the basis of negotiations for a COC in the South China Sea. In November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said he hopes COC consultations would be completed in three years.
Gen Wei will also be attending the Shangri-La Dialogue later this week, the first time a Chinese defence minister is visiting in eight years.
Dr Ng said Gen Wei's presence at the dialogue is “reassuring”, especially as it comes amid a climate of trade and technological tensions between the US and China.
“Despite the fact that nobody could have forecasted the events that have precipitated over the last month, the very fact that he’s here shows a confident China and PLA (People’s Liberation Army); one that is willing to engage with the region and the world,” he added.
“Particularly because there are trade tensions, I think it’s even more important for security agencies to give reassurance that there won’t be increased risk of miscalculations or misperceptions, and worse still, conflicts.”
Dr Ng said he expected that many questions would be asked at the Shangri-La Dialogue about the security implications of the tensions, particularly how China’s defence ministry and the PLA would respond.
“Because of the common goals that both China and Singapore, and indeed all the countries share, I think we’re on the same page,” he added. “I doubt if either the US or China would want to increase tensions in this region.”
When asked if Singapore would be forced to choose between US or China if a “difficult situation” develops, Dr Ng said both countries accept that nobody needs to “choose sides”.
“Not only is it a wise decision, it is one which reflects that you don’t live in a unipolar or bipolar world,” he said.
“You have supply lines that criss-cross, you have economic dependencies, whether it’s currencies, economies or security.”
Dr Ng said Gen Wei reaffirmed that it would not make sense to destroy the progress that countries have made working together.
“We have spent the last 70 years building inclusive architectures, whether it’s for global trade, finance and security,” he added.
“To be retrogressive and to roll back all our efforts in 70 years makes absolutely no sense, and I do not believe for a moment that either us or the Chinese would want to do so.”