SINGAPORE: The United States' presence in the region is "vital for its peace, prosperity, and stability", Singapore and the US affirmed on Tuesday (Jul 27) during the inaugural visit of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III to Singapore.
Mr Austin is on an introductory tour of Southeast Asia, where he is the first member of US President Joe Biden's Cabinet to visit. The retired four-star general is in Singapore from Monday to Wednesday, when he leaves for Vietnam and the Philippines.
After a welcome by the Guard of Honour on Tuesday morning, Mr Austin met Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and separately called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Dr Ng and Mr Austin reaffirmed the "excellent and long-standing" defence relations between both countries in their meeting, said Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).
Both sides expressed "satisfaction" that military cooperation continued to be strong despite the COVID-19 pandemic, said the ministry.
They also exchanged views on geopolitical developments and regional security issues, and agreed on the importance of the US' continued engagement in the region, said MINDEF.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the defence chiefs highlighted the signing of the 2019 Protocol of Amendment renewing a 1990 memorandum of understanding (MOU) that facilitates US forces' access to Singapore's military facilities for transit and logistics support.
Along with the signing of an MOU establishing a Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter training detachment in Guam, these underscored the long-standing and multi-faceted defence ties, read the statement.
"Secretary Austin thanked Singapore for the logistical support that it provides to US military aircraft and vessels, as well as for facilitating the regular rotational deployment of US Littoral Combat Ships and P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
"This support is anchored on the shared belief that the United States' presence in the region is vital for its peace, prosperity, and stability," the statement continued, adding that Dr Ng and Mr Austin also committed to continue discussions on US "force posture initiatives".
The defence chiefs stressed the "strong" bilateral training relationship between their countries in the joint statement, noting that Singapore and US armed forces have trained together in recent bilateral and multilateral exercises such as the 3rd Exercise Pacific Griffin.
Mr Austin also "emphasised that the Department of Defense values Singapore's training presence inside the United States", according to the statement.
Both said they looked forward to "new high-end bilateral training opportunities, including future cooperation as the United States hosts Singapore's future F-35B fighter aircraft detachment".
Last month, both countries announced that Ebbing Air National Guard Base, Arkansas had been selected to host Singapore's F-35B detachment as well as the F-16 fighter training detachment, relocated from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
Dr Ng also thanked Mr Austin for the US' "strong support" facilitating Singapore's overseas training and exercises, helping to overcome the country's space constraints.
Both commended growing areas of defence partnerships in counter-terrorism and artificial intelligence, and expressed hope for more cooperation in areas such as cyber defence, strategic communications and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The defence chiefs also "discussed the regional security environment and agreed on the importance of sustaining a rules-based order", read the joint statement.
"They also agreed to continue finding ways to expand the role of the US-Singapore partnership in maintaining regional stability, such as through increased exchanges and training opportunities for the region's young defence leaders."
Mr Austin's visit continues on Tuesday evening when he delivers a lecture on "The Imperative of Partnership". The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which is organising the event, describes Mr Austin's speech as one in which he will "make the case for the US' role as a reliable partner in helping nations in the Indo-Pacific make their own choices and 'build back better' after COVID-19".