April 5, 2012 — Singapore and the United States reaffirmed the excellent and long-standing bilateral defence ties between the two countries when Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen met his US counterpart Leon Panetta at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The two countries also underscored the shared belief that a strong US presence in the Asia Pacific enhances regional stability and security.
In a joint statement after their meeting, both ministers said they recognised the value of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus and the Shangri-La Dialogue as important forums to build the confidence and mutual understanding needed to address regional security challenges.
Dr Ng, who is on his first official visit to Washington DC, welcomed Mr Panetta's commitment to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue this year.
Both sides also recognised the importance of practical cooperation -- such as military exercises and exchanges -- among regional militaries, which complements the role of dialogue in building trust and confidence in the region.
During the meeting, Mr Panetta and Dr Ng discussed a wide range of defence and security issues, including a proposal for the US to deploy up to four littoral combat ships to Singapore.
The warships will be deployed on a rotational basis and will not be based in Singapore.
The ministers noted that the deployment of the warships signals US commitment to the region and enhances its ability to train and engage with regional partners.
Both sides also noted the substantial progress made in deepening bilateral defence cooperation since the signing of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) in 2005.
Dr Ng and Mr Panetta also agreed to increase the complexity of existing bilateral exercises, such as Exercise Commando Sling, to enhance interoperability and promote greater cooperation between both armed forces.
Additionally, the US and Singapore will enhance joint urban training opportunities through the use of Singapore facilities, such as the Murai Urban Training Facility.
The US and Singapore will continue to explore additional joint initiatives to further operationalise the SFA and facilitate US engagement in the region.
Earlier in the day, Dr Ng delivered a speech to an audience of officials and strategic thinkers at an event organised by Washington DC-based think-tank, the Center for a New American Security.
In his speech, Dr Ng emphasised the importance of evolving a regional security architecture for the Asia-Pacific region that brings together all key stakeholders in the region, and accommodates their interests and aspirations.
Stable military-to-military relationships were needed to maintain peace in the region.
Dr Ng said, "It is vital to evolve a regional security architecture which accommodates all stakeholders and rising aspirations. Relationships marked predominantly by strategic rivalry will increase the risks of friction and conflict. We must therefore engage in ways to increase understanding and confidence among defence establishments."
Dr Ng also noted the importance of the US' continuing role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, but raised concern about the potential for confrontation with China.
"As the balance of the world's strategic and economic weight shifts towards the Pacific, it is vital to evolve a regional security architecture, which accommodates all stakeholders and rising aspirations," Dr Ng said.
"Relationships marked predominantly by strategic rivalry will increase the risk of friction and conflict."
US officials also rejected the notion that the US is trying to contain a rising China.
Jon Huntsman, former US ambassador to Singapore and China, said, "It's rounding out our long-term regional security interests, which first and foremost is aimed toward keeping the sea lanes open for the free flow of trade and commerce.
"That has been a primary objective for many decades and when that is done right, all nations in the region prosper," he added.
Dr Ng will also meet with Secretary of the Air Force Michael B Donley and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W Greenert, while he is in Washington DC
Thereafter, Dr Ng will visit the Republic of Singapore Air Force Peace Carvin V F-15SG fighter detachment at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.