Friday 11 December 2015

US P-8 spy plane deployment reinforces US presence in Asia-Pacific

Spy plane issue needs to be seen in perspective; continued US engagement vital for stability in region: Ng Eng Hen
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2015

The deployment of US P-8 surveillance aircraft to Singapore this week lends credibility to the American presence in the region, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday, stressing that continued United States engagement remains vital for stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Dr Ng, who is wrapping up a visit to Washington, outlined the Republic's position on the deployment in an interview with Singapore media.

He said that the rotation was consistent with Singapore's belief in the importance of US engagement and that the whole issue needs to be looked at in perspective.

"Perspectives, in terms of what the P-8 can do, have been somewhat hyped up. This is not the first time that the P-8s have rotated through Singapore... P-8s from Japan, India, have been around the region, so I think we need to put that in perspective," he said.

"As a sum total, both the littoral combat ships in Singapore, and the P-8s in Singapore, lend credibility to the US presence in the region."

He added it was entirely possible that if the US did not deploy assets to the region while agreeing to boost military cooperation with Singapore, it might have instead triggered questions about how serious they were about the agreement.

The announcement on Monday that the US craft would be hosted in Singapore had drawn much attention in recent days as pundits debated the significance of the move to the US posture in the South China Sea.

In Washington, the deployment was seen as a response to Chinese actions in the disputed waters.

Beijing, meanwhile, responded by accusing the US of "pushing regional militarisation".

Tensions between the US and China have been high since a US ship conducted a freedom of navigation operation near a Chinese artificial island in October.

Dr Ng, however, stressed that the US deployment should not be seen as Singapore picking one side over the other. "There's always going to be these reactions, but the larger picture, I think, is that all the leaders understand that no relationship needs to be exclusive, that the common goals of regional stability are all shared. We can step up relationships with countries without having to diminish the importance or the depth of relationships with others. I think we are mature enough to understand that."

Asked if Singapore would have an issue if the US planes conducted a freedom of navigation operation while operating out of the country, he said that Singapore simply expects any country with assets going through the island to comply with international norms.

"I think the US understands that they will have to comply with international norms. I think there is no reason to believe that they won't," he added.

On the last day of his visit to Washington, Dr Ng delivered a speech at an event organised by the US think-tank Centre for a New American Security.

There, he made the case for continued US presence in the Asia-Pacific while noting that countries in the region had their part to play to ensure peace and stability. He said more needed to be done to build strategic trust among stakeholders.

To that end, he said that exercises like joint patrols against piracy in the Strait of Malacca were a step in the right direction.

In the context of the South China Sea, he said countries need to adhere to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) - signed by Asean and China in 2002 - if a binding Code of Conduct (COC) is to materialise.

He said: "It is hard to conceive of trust in the COC in the South China Sea when the DOC is not observed. Prolonged and unresolved South China Sea disputes will weaken strategic trust in the region."

Today, Dr Ng will visit Arizona for the Singapore military's Exercise Forging Sabre, in which Singapore pilots are set to attempt night firing.

Since arriving in Washington on Sunday, he has signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement with US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and met a host of top US officials and congressmen.

<<Majulah Singapura in Washington DC>>Singapore's National Anthem being played by US military band during a warm...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Monday, December 7, 2015

Singapore-US pact to enhance military ties
Defence chiefs of both countries also reaffirm importance of US presence in Asia-Pacific
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2015

Singapore is hosting US P-8 Poseidon spy planes for the first time, with the deployment set to last one week.

The announcement came on Monday as visiting Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his US counterpart Ashton Carter signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement at the Pentagon to broaden military ties between the two sides.

The pact, signed in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of a 1990 Memorandum of Understanding and the 10th anniversary of the 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement between the US and Singapore, outlines a wide range of areas where the two sides will deepen their cooperation, and also lists some new ones.

The Singapore Defence Ministry said the agreement lays out new areas of cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defence, biosecurity and public communications.

It also introduces new high-level dialogues between the two countries' defence establishments.

<<Singapore – US stronger defence ties>>In Washington DC now where Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and I just signed...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Monday, December 7, 2015

During their meeting, Dr Ng and Mr Carter reaffirmed the importance of a strong US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

A joint statement from the two defence chiefs "welcomed the inaugural deployment of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft", adding that it would "promote greater interoperability with regional militaries through participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises, while providing timely support for regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime security efforts".

In the US, the deployment of the planes was the announcement that drew the most attention, with Washington pundits viewing the move as one that would bolster President Barack Obama's much-vaunted pivot to Asia.

"Singapore has given the United States strategic anchorage for more than two decades after the closing of US bases in the Philippines.

"This decision is significant because the US is seeking to build a regime of shared maritime domain awareness," said Dr Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security in Washington.

"Singapore's security cooperation is helping to create enduring stability and transparency."

China, meanwhile, said the US deployment was aimed at militarising the region.

However, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet has been quoted as saying that the move had nothing to do with US-China tensions in the South China Sea.

"It's not about the South China Sea, it's about partnership with Singapore and other partners in the region," Lieutenant Commander Arlo Abrahamson told the BBC.

The US has previously launched its P-8 planes - modified Boeing 737s which gather intelligence and can hunt down submarines - from bases in Japan and the Philippines, and has also conducted surveillance flights from Malaysia.

In Singapore, the planes started operating from Paya Lebar Airbase on Monday and the deployment will end next Monday.

Asked about future deployments, the US Navy did not want to go into details of specific dates, saying they were subject to ongoing planning and coordination.

Dr Ng will be in Washington until tomorrow. He will be meeting congressional leaders and high-ranking Pentagon officials, and is due to deliver a speech at the Centre for a New American Security, a think-tank.

See P-8 deployment in perspective
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2015

ARIZONA • The announcement that Singapore will host the United States' P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft till next Monday was tucked away in the middle of a joint statement issued after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen met his US counterpart Ashton Carter at the Pentagon on Monday.

But the message was not lost on defence officials and experts who zoomed in on the week-long rotational deployment, even though the statement focused more on how both militaries will strengthen ties and step up cooperation in new areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defence and biosecurity.

Commentators have read the move as Singapore leaning towards a US that is seeking to flex its muscles in Asia, amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea.

Some perspective is called for here. The P-8 deployment is not a significant shift in position, but should be seen as an evolution of the strong defence ties between Singapore and Washington.

First, the deployment is not part of the enhanced defence cooperation deal inked on Monday. It falls within the ambit of the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding and 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement inked by both sides.

Under both pacts, the US has started deploying littoral combat ships (LCS) since 2013. The P-8 detachment is simply adhering to what was agreed earlier.

International Institute of Strategic Studies senior fellow William Choong said the P-8 deployment speaks of the progress made in US-Singapore relations and is not a move "directed at China". "Given the LCS detachment is already here, there was always going to be room for additional deployment of US ships and platforms," he added.

Second, Singapore has made it clear that it is not a claimant state in South China Sea disputes but has an interest in ensuring the right of freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea, which is a "vital lifeline" for trade.

Singapore leaders have repeated this point. Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the East Asia Summit that all parties should abide by the principles of peaceful resolution of disputes and the primacy of international law.

Third, this week's P-8 deployment is in line with America's plan to spend US$425 million (S$601 million) to help South-east Asian countries strengthen their maritime capabilities through military exercises and equipment purchases.

Singapore joins countries like US allies Japan and the Philippines that allow the Americans to operate P-8s from their airfields. But Singapore is not a treaty ally of the US.

Bilateral cooperation is not exclusive to the Americans. The Republic has boosted ties with the Chinese, too, evident from the substantive partnership agreement announced during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit last month.

Bilateral defence ties between both sides also strengthened in the past year under a four-point agreement, which covers stepping up the frequency of joint training exercises and increased exchanges and dialogue between both militaries.

As Dr Ng told a defence forum in China in October, China's heft and strategic weight make it a regional security leader. He said: "We will need more of these initiatives and Singapore supports China's leadership to promote stability and security in Asia."

Concerns may be raised about Singapore's loyalties from time to time, but as Dr Choong said, these are perceptions that will never go away.

Singapore's position is clear: It wishes to be close to both the US and China, not tilt the balance of power or heighten regional rivalry.

China gives restrained response to Singapore
By Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2015

China said the United States' deployment of spy planes in Singapore for surveillance in the South China Sea was out of step with the region's interests, but it stopped short of directly criticising the Republic.

Observers say China gave a restrained response to preserve its strong ties with Singapore and also because it is likely to have been informed in advance by Singapore.

At the Chinese foreign ministry's regular briefing in Beijing yesterday, spokesman Hua Chunying said China believes most of its neighbours, including Singapore, wish to see an East Asia that is peaceful, stable and prosperous.

She called for deep reflection on whether actions by countries like the US in beefing up military deployment and militarising the region are in sync with the wish of other countries, "especially in view of the peaceful and stable situation in the South China Sea".

"I believe the US actions in beefing up its military deployment and militarising the region do not meet the joint long-term interests of the countries in this region," she added.

"We hope relevant parties would do more to increase trust between countries and maintain regional peace and stability."

Beijing has also been criticised for militarising the region through its land reclamation and construction of military facilities in the South China Sea that faces overlapping claims from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Sino-Asean expert Xu Liping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said China would have made direct criticism if the P-8 deployment had been in the Philippines or Vietnam.

"China's response showed it understands that Singapore still depends heavily on the US for its security needs, which cannot be changed in the near future," he said.

"China also knows criticising Singapore would not stop the deployment and might create more problems by hurting bilateral ties."

'China monitoring US-Singapore spy plane deal'
The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2015

BEIJING • China's military is paying "close attention" to an agreement between the United States and Singapore to deploy the US P-8 Poseidon spy plane to the city state and hopes the move does not harm regional stability, the defence ministry said.

"We are paying close attention to how the relevant situation develops, and hope bilateral defence cooperation between the relevant countries is beneficial to regional peace and stability and not the opposite," the ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

China's Foreign Ministry, which is at odds with Washington over the South China Sea, said on Tuesday that the US move was aimed at militarising the region.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter and Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday welcomed the inaugural deployment of the aircraft in Singapore for a week.

The move comes at a time of heightened tensions in the South China Sea over China's claims to large areas of the sea.

Washington has criticised China's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea's disputed Spratly archipelago, and has conducted sea and air patrols near them recently.

Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein yesterday said the country had no issues with the joint agreement, as any intelligence gathered would also be shared with Malaysia. "It's the right of Singapore to allow the Poseidon to be in Singapore and it is the right of Malaysia to not allow it in our territorial waters or base," he told reporters.


• Additional reporting by Trinna Leong

Singapore seeks increased intelligence sharing from US
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2015

WASHINGTON • Singapore is seeking increased intelligence sharing from the United States as it seeks to deal with the growing threat of terrorism, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Speaking to Singapore media as he concluded the Washington leg of his visit to the US, Dr Ng described radicalisation as a "clear and present danger" and said he had spoken to several US leaders about boosting cooperation.

"I think this is something we have to pay attention to and, in my meetings with some of the leaders here, we've asked for an increasing in sharing of intelligence...

"Sharing of intelligence is a big area in which we can provide ourselves early warning as well as an assessment of systemic risk."

He said that Singapore would continue to review its commitments to the US-led coalition to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, having already sent a KC-135 refuelling tanker and an image analysis team.

"We know that this is an important fight. Where we can, we'll contribute," he said.

On Wednesday, Dr Ng also voiced concerns about the potential for a religious divide following terrorist acts such as the Paris attacks last month and the San Bernardino shootings about a week ago.

His remarks come at a time when US political discourse is preoccupied with a controversial proposal by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban all Muslims from entering the US.

Dr Ng did not directly address Mr Trump's comments, but said he was heartened by the responses of the leaders he had spoken to about terrorism.

He said: "They recognise the specific threat and that you really ought not to let this (the terror attacks) hijack race relations. I hope these voices will prevail if indeed you have similar incidents in the future."

Singapore-US defence relations: Enhancing security, benefiting region
By Daniel Chua Wei Boon, Published The Straits Times, 9 Dec 2015

The United States is Singapore's most important strategic partner. Similarly, the role Singapore plays in American strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific is unique and critical.

Within a web of defence relationships that the US possesses in the Asia-Pacific, the Singapore-US strategic partnership stands out because the depth of its commitment stops short of mutual defence treaties. Instead, Singapore's defence relations with the US focus on shared interests and avoid the entanglements of mutual defence commitments.

This week, the two countries agreed to boost defence ties through the signing of an agreement that paves the way for enhanced cooperation in a broad range of areas, including, for the first time, cyber defence and biosecurity.

The signing comes at a time of change for security in the region.

Since the end of the Cold War, domestic voices within American allies, such as New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Australia, have questioned their alliance relationships with the US.

Rising nationalist movements and groups in these countries associate American bases with the loss of sovereignty, sometimes forgetting that America's strategic presence pays security dividends. As American allies face increased stress to untether from Washington, the Singapore-US defence relationship bucks the trend.

Singapore's pragmatic and business-like approach towards defence cooperation with the US not only provides a practicable alternative to the current state of American alliances in the Asia-Pacific, but is also embraced in Washington because Singapore does not ask for American protection.

Rather, Singapore takes measures to ensure its own security, which premises on deft diplomacy and credible deterrence.

Singapore adopts a foreign policy of non-alignment and engages with its partners on the principles of mutual interests. Hence, the alignment of interests between the US and Singapore in the Asia-Pacific forms the bedrock for an enduring defence relationship.

During the Vietnam War, for example, Singapore-American defence cooperation took the form of repairs and maintenance services for US military ships and aircraft, first managed by the British colonial authorities and then continued by the Singapore government after independence. Because of the high demand for these repair services, along with the refuelling of US vessels and the Rest and Recuperation Programme of American troops in Singapore, Singapore managed to avoid dire economic and security crises that could have resulted from Britain's military withdrawal from the late 1960s to early 1970s.

In fact, the withdrawal of British troops created a pressing need for a counterweight to balance Sino-Soviet influence in South-east Asia during the height of the Cold War.

The US was the only power able to play that role.

Since independence, Singapore has recognised the importance of having a balance of power in the region and, therefore, actively engages the US and rising regional powers, such as China and India.

Nations in the region find American strategic presence acceptable, particularly because the US regards the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific to be important for its own interests.

Furthermore, scholars point to the success of American soft power in cultivating an image of a dominant and benign power in the region.

As a small nation, Singapore thrives within a stable regional environment that is dominated by a superpower like the US.

In the nascent years of building Singapore's own defence capabilities, military equipment and technology from the US catalysed the development of the Singapore Armed Forces.

The US also provided some of the overseas training space that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) utilised and conducted joint military exercises in.

For instance, the SAF utilises training locations in Luke and Mountain Home Air Force Bases, Silverbell Army Heliport and Grand Prairie, Texas.

Both militaries have also been conducting annual bilateral exercises since 1980.

Exercise Tiger Balm, the longest-running bilateral exercise between the Singapore and United States armies, has been running for 35 years.

This year also marks the 25th year of Exercise Commando Sling, which involves both air forces.

The Republic of Singapore Navy and the US Navy recently commemorated the 20th year of Exercise Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (Carat), a bilateral naval exercise held annually.

Today, Singapore-US defence cooperation has gone through significant enhancements.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 1990 was a key agreement, which allowed wider use of Singapore's facilities by the US military.

Under the provisions of the MOU, the Commander, Logistics, Western Pacific (Comlog Westpac) of the US Pacific Fleet moved to Sembawang after the Command vacated Subic Bay and Singapore provided logistical support for transiting US forces, aircraft and vessels.

The hosting of Comlog Westpac in Sembawang demonstrates Singapore's belief that American strategic presence in South-east Asia should outlast the Cold War.

In 1998, an addendum to the MOU was signed so that US military vessels, including deep draft vessels, could stop at the new Changi Naval Base.

The Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) signed in 2005 extended the 1990 MOU and increased the areas of defence collaboration between Washington and Singapore, especially in managing global terrorism.

The SFA enhances the bilateral and multilateral military exercises between both countries and deepens the strategic dialogue and exchanges in defence intelligence, among other areas.

The rotation of US Littoral Combat Ships through Singapore, as well as through other forward operating facilities in the Asia-Pacific, serves a critical function for the region as it demonstrates the rebalancing of the US to Asia and performs humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

Regional and global security dynamics have changed since Singapore and Washington last signed the SFA.

More than a decade since 2005, more security risks have emerged in higher frequency and intensity. The growing influence of China and India will alter the Asia-Pacific balance of power in time to come.

Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea threaten the geopolitics of the region, if allowed to escalate into conflict.

Transnational terrorism remains a security risk, and has recently taken on a cyber and informational dimension through the use of social media and retaliation by "hacktivists" after the Nov 13 Paris attacks.

The world is constantly changing. But the fundamental interest of regional security shared by both Singapore and the US remains constant, and growing their strategic relationship to help tackle emerging threats would be a sensible endeavour.

The writer is a Research Fellow with the Military Studies Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

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