SINGAPORE: The United States' commitment to the Asia Pacific region and its stability “bodes well” from the security standpoint, said Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (Apr 6).
Dr Ng, who is in Washington, DC for a working visit, told Channel NewsAsia in an interview that he had a "very productive" session with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis during his visit, and who affirmed Singapore-US relations.
"He affirmed the continuing importance that the US gives to the Asia Pacific region, understands this well having been in the military, the pivotal and critical US place in Asia Pacific stability. We both reaffirmed the desire to strengthen military relations," Dr Ng said.
On the US commitment to the region, the minister said Mr Mattis understands the nuances in terms of the tensions, or problems that can arise and there is "much reassurance and confidence" from his counterpart.
Asked if Mr Mattis and US President Donald Trump understand the direction in which they are moving in the region, Dr Ng said: "I was not given any cause to believe that Secretary Mattis wasn’t given the entire latitude in his remit to fulfil his mandate to security matters. So, great reassurance."
The two men had first met in February this year, on the sidelines of the 53rd Munich Security Conference.
The Singapore Defence Minister also affirmed that both countries remain committed to the enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement signed in 2015 under the previous administration led by former US president Barack Obama. The agreement strengthened cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), cyber defence, biosecurity and public communications.
The Ministry of Defence on Thursday also said both men had expressed support for multilateral platforms such as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which Mr Mattis said he was looking forward to attend this June.
Dr Ng noted that one of the questions to be answered during the trip was what would the US' approach be in this region, and the understanding he got was that the US is still committed.
"In fact, the recurring theme from not only the administration, not only from Secretary Mattis, but from senators, the congressmen, was that security is less likely to be a factor, because you have the structures that are operational," he said.
He cited the example of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), and said the US has ships that will continue to have a "particular tempo, missions that will continue to be conducted", so "the sense was that there would be least disruption to security".
As for North Korea, Dr Ng said it was obviously a concern with the US and everyone else. "It's in our backyard, and I think there was some hope that we will see from Trump's meeting with (Chinese president) Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago ... some positive steps. So we have to wait for the outcome."
This comes after recent North Korean missile launches, which Pyongyang described as "practice" for an attack on US bases in Japan. The most recent incident saw the country firing a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday.