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China, Singapore reaffirm military ties, but is the deal anything more than symbolic?

Singapore Business 2017/09/25 at 3:00 PM
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China and Singapore have reaffirmed a commitment made almost three years ago to boost military cooperation in a move that observers said was a sign of improving trust between the two nations albeit little more than symbolic.

Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquan and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng-hen agreed at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday to continue to work together to deepen defence ties and build mutual trust under the “Four-Point Consensus” reached on November 14, 2014.

“Both sides should put this important consensus into practice … strengthen mutual advantage under the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and seize the opportunity to break new ground for cooperation,” Chang, who is also a state councillor, was quoted as saying in a statement released by China’s defence ministry.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Ng said the two sides would also seek to stage more military drills.

“We want to step up bilateral exercises between our navies and armies. As Asean-China coordinator and Asean chair next year … [Singapore wishes] to promote stability and progress in the region,” he said.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s three-day visit to China, which ended on Thursday. Lee met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday evening.

Despite the mutual commitment, Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the announcement was mostly symbolic.

“Economically, Singapore and China have a close relationship, and Singapore is keen to participate in China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and [projects related to] urban development, robotics and the digital silk road … [but] on the security front, the United States is, and will remain, Singapore’s strongest partner”, he said.

The city state “will become a stakeholder in the ‘Belt and Road’ plan where it has a competitive advantage … but I don’t see there being any close Singapore-China military links in the near future”, Chaturvedy said.

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