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Talk by Defence Minister of Singapore, Dr Ng Eng Hen on ‘Security Cooperation in a Changing Strategic Landscape’

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  • November 20, 2012

    Remarks by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore

    Security Cooperation in a Changing Strategic Landscape

    Director General, IDSA, Dr Arvind Gupta
    Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

    It is a pleasure to be here in New Delhi, and to speak at your august institution, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Let me begin by thanking Dr Gupta and the IDSA for this opportunity to address all of you today. What I think could be useful to discuss is our perspectives and hopefully, collectively, come to some sensible steps in which India and Singapore can jointly move together to try to shape a more conducive environment.

    Next month, New Delhi will host the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to mark 20 years of ASEAN-India dialogue partnership and the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-India Summit-level partnership. Before I came to India, I met your High Commissioner in Singapore and he updated me on the two flagship events to commemorate these milestones. First, there will be an ASEAN-India car rally from Yogyakarta in Indonesia, to New Delhi that would traverse through eight ASEAN countries. This event seems quite exciting and the car aficionados amongst you might still be able to sign up for this car rally. Second, there is also an expedition by the Indian Navy sail training ship INS Sudarshini that set sail from India in mid-September and is now mid-way through a journey that would see it call at nine ASEAN countries in all. These two events reflect and symbolise the strengthening of ties between the Governments as well as the peoples of India and ASEAN.

    You will remember that in 1991, India embarked on its "Look East" policy. Yet, if you think about it, the engagements, the movement of people, the exchange of merchandise and ideas between India and ASEAN in the east are as old as the history of maritime trade itself. The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting had gathered in Phnom Penh in the middle of this year and we also had a formal retreat a few days ago in Siem Reap in Cambodia, where Secretary Panetta met with us informally as well. Obviously, when you go to Siem Reap, you have to visit Angkor Wat. The visit to Angkor Wat was a reminder of the Indian influence in Southeast Asia. I think the late King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia said it well when dedicating a boulevard in Phnom Penh to India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. And if I can quote him: "In fact, it was about 2,000 years ago that the first navigators, Indian merchants and Brahmins, brought to our ancestors their Gods, their techniques, their organization." The monuments at Angkor Wat, Borobudur, Preah Vihear, Prambanan, and Po Klong Garai are living reminders of the Indian influence in Southeast Asia. Thailand's International Airport is named Suvarnabhumi, Sanskrit for "Land of Gold", which was what ancient Indians called today's Peninsular Southeast Asia. Indeed, Thailand's Buddhist kings claim spiritual descent from India's legendary God-king Rama.

    Singapore too has retained our Sanskrit name, "Lion Town" derived from the Sanskrit words simha and pura. Despite being a Chinese majority country, the Indian influence in Singapore is strong and as many of you who had visited Singapore will be quick to realise, this Indian influence has been melded indivisibly to create the unique Singapore of today. When you come to Singapore, the numerous street names, the culture, the food, the festivities, reflect an Indian heritage that is part and parcel of our multicultural and multiracial nation.

    India's engagement with ASEAN and its influence on what makes ASEAN what it is today is a historical fact. Inevitably the question would be asked, what of the future - what role does India see for itself in the Asia Pacific region in the 21st Century, the Asian Century?

    Changing dynamics in the Asia Pacific region

    The growth of Asia certainly looks promising, based on current trends. India's long-term outlook remains bright, driven by strong economic fundamentals - large domestic savings and investments matched by strong domestic demand and a stable of World-class companies. In contrast to Europe, India has a young population, with half of its population currently under the age of 25. The demographic dividends will be reaped in the future. Just one metric to illustrate this - India's workforce will grow to 1 billion in 2030, from 780 million in 2010, and could potentially add two percentage points per annum to India's GDP growth for the next two decades, just based on the input of manpower on India's economy alone. China is currently reaping that demographic dividend, though this will tail off because China's population is ageing. Singapore had previously reaped that same demographic dividend because we had the baby boomers born in the 1950s, though now we are ageing as well. Some project India’s economy at US$5 trillion in 2030, quadruple what it is today.

    China's economy is estimated to grow to US$16.5 trillion by 2030. By then, ASEAN is projected to have a population of 740 million people, by and large still young, and a combined GDP of US$3.2 trillion, roughly double what India is today. By then, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and South Asia will account for half of the world's population, with a growing middle class that will drive global demand for goods and services. Asia's economies are expected to account for more than 40 per cent of global output by 2030.

    I think the numbers, the projections, the fundamentals are certainly very promising for Asia. But I think all of us here are realists and also students of history and history reminds us that projections are not always accurate predictions or pre-ordained certainties. Risks exist and history is replete with examples of "might have beens" as promising countries stumbled due to a variety of reasons. The recent escalation of tensions due to territorial disputes within the South China and East China Sea reminds us that miscalculations can set many countries on a downward trajectory. I give you one example of an incident which occurred between Japan and China as a result of the dispute in the East China Sea. In the wake of protests and boycotts, Japanese businesses shut hundreds of stores and factories in China and flights between two countries were cut. Sales of Japanese cars in China dropped by 60% in October, on a year-on-year basis, while visits by Chinese tourists to Japan dropped by a third. Just as a result of this one incident.

    Stakeholder countries in Asia would therefore do well to work hard to ensure that virtuous conditions that we have today are maintained so that we can continue to cooperate and grow. We need to examine this complex dynamic and to understand how we can maintain these virtuous conditions. And I think the most critical relationship for the Asia-Pacific, or if you like, the Indo-Pacific, is the US-China relationship. How the US and China deal with one another will impact us all. All of us recognise that strategic rivalry will exist between a resident and a rising power. But beyond this, both sides have declared their intent on expanding cooperation. As I told you, we met Secretary Panetta in Siem Reap a few days ago, and he said in that meeting that the US Department of Defence pledged to step up strategic dialogue and build better relations with China. It is clear that much work remains to be done for US-China ties to achieve a more productive, less contentious footing.

    Tensions on the Korean Peninsula, transnational threats arising from terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics and natural disasters are other concerns that none of us can choose to ignore. Nor can these concerns be solved by any one country, no matter how well resourced.

    Building regional consensus and practical cooperation

    To respond to these challenges effectively and to secure our futures, we need a cooperative and inclusive framework that allows stakeholders first and foremost to develop relationships based on trust and goodwill. As your Defence Minister A K Antony noted at the 2012 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, "a spirit of consensus needs to be fostered on issues that have common resonance" to member countries. There can be no greater issue of common resonance than our shared peace and prosperity.

    To realise these common aspirations, we have begun to build platforms that forge an open and inclusive regional security architecture. In the past decade, ASEAN established the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2005, the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in 2006 and the ADMM-Plus in 2010. Let me elaborate a little on the ADMM-Plus because it is important in the security context. The ADMM-Plus brings together all the key regional stakeholders. The ADMM member states had carefully deliberated on the structure and size of ADMM-Plus, we didn't want it too big such that it was unwieldy, or too small such that it was exclusive. So we decided that it would be a 10 plus eight configuration, with 10 ASEAN countries and eight "Plus" countries - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the US. These platforms, the East Asia Summit, the ADMM, the ADMM-Plus, together with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and APEC, allow us to address the host of economic, cultural and security challenges and opportunities, promote dialogue, and trust and confidence among its members, and initiate responses to deal with regional challenges. For example, the Shangri-La Dialogue is a forum where countries can come together for constructive dialogue to reach that "spirit of consensus".

    The ADMM-Plus has also another unique feature - that of military to military relations. That is something that the security agencies have over and above dialogue where militaries can exercise and cooperate with one another to build confidence and understanding. I am happy to report that we have made good progress in instituting practical cooperation between the ADMM-Plus militaries in areas of common security interest: Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), maritime security, military medicine, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations. Experts' Working Groups, or EWGs, have been established in each of these areas to conduct exercises, dialogues, table-top exercises, full troop exercises. These exercises can be large and very complex but they are also very instructive and productive in building that military-to-military confidence. Next year, Brunei will host a ADMM-Plus HADR / Military Medicine full troop exercise that will bring together the 18 ADMM-Plus militaries off the coast of Brunei. I think it will be a wonderful exercise, a very ambitious one, with full asset involvement, troops on the ground and will also involve both US and China in the same exercise. India has also pledged to contribute a very substantial contingent and I would like to congratulate India for playing that role.

    Singapore believes that India can and should play a major role in these various fora to promote peace, stability and progress for the region. India is a rising power. India signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 2003 and committed itself to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia. India already participates closely in the EAS, the ARF, the ADMM-Plus and the Shangri-La Dialogue. India's perspectives and leadership would add to the balance of interests in the region.

    India's greater engagement of Southeast Asia, as it has done in the past through meaningful multilateral engagement and a strong web of bilateral relationships, would also serve India's strategic and economic interests in the future. ASEAN and India became dialogue partners 20 years ago and the results of this engagement are clear. Since this engagement as dialogue partners, trade and investment between ASEAN and India prospered and increased about 20 times. From 2010 to 2011 alone, ASEAN-India bilateral trade increased by 43% from US$52 billion to US$75 billion.

    Singapore-India Bilateral Relations

    Ties between Singapore and India today are excellent on all fronts, from trade to culture to education and defence. In 2005, both countries signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), India's first-ever Free Trade Agreement. Trade between India and Singapore last year stood at US$28.5 billion, more than double what it was five years ago, and triple what it was when the CECA was signed. Singapore looks forward to the conclusion of the second review and update of CECA.

    The people-to-people ties between India and Singapore are also better than ever. Many Indian nationals live and work in Singapore, including large numbers of IIT and IIM alumni. Some of you may also remember the International Indian Film Academy Awards Weekend. We were very happy that the Indian Film Academy chose Singapore as the site for their awards because it not only added to our GDP, but also because Singapore has a lot of Bollywood fans and they had a good time just stargazing at the many beautiful and handsome actresses and actors.

    Our defence ties have also strengthened, especially after the signing of the Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2003. We now have an annual Defence Policy Dialogue chaired by the Permanent Secretaries. Ministers frequently exchange visits and Minister Antony spoke at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this year.

    The Air Force and Army Bilateral Agreements were first signed in 2007 and 2008, respectively. As I speak, the Singapore and Indian Armies are conducting bilateral artillery training in Devlali, which we call Exercise Agni Warrior. I have personally visited our bilateral exercise in Devlali before and it is a very good exercise, held at very good training grounds. Both our air forces are also conducting Joint Military Training in West Bengal. Our navies have also held training exercises for a long time since 1994.

    I think that these extensive and regular interactions between our countries prove that the bilateral partnership exists, while the fora for cooperation exists in a multilateral setting. The architecture is there but it needs to be strengthened.


    President Pranab Mukherjee said, when he was External Affairs Minister in 2007: "India is not just a motor of regional growth, it can equally be the bulwark of regional security." As a close friend of India, Singapore agrees with President Mukherjee and welcomes greater Indian engagement with the region. Singapore looks forwards to working with India to forge peace and prosperity for Asia.

    I look forward to an exchange of views in terms of your perspectives of how Singapore and India can work together in this important venture. Thank you very much.

    Transcript of Question and Answer Session of Defence Minister of Singapore, Dr Ng Eng Hen' s Talk on ‘Security Cooperation in a Changing Strategic Landscape’