Key IssuesPartnershipsRegionalSoutheast AsiaTop Stories

Singapore defense official: Cooperation, alliances can strengthen Indo-Pacific


Regional partnerships in the Indo-Pacific are key to preserving and enhancing stability, Singapore Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said in opening the 2023 Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting. “I think that our best option remains to improve and to adapt various mechanisms — global, multilateral and certainly regionally … to serve the needs of our time,” Heng, pictured, said in his keynote address on enhancing regionalism in a turbulent world.

The forum, held in Singapore in mid-January, brought together about 100 senior defense officials, military officers and nongovernmental experts to discuss defense diplomacy and regional security. During the annual meetings, participants from the Indo-Pacific, Europe and North America examine evolving security challenges, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which hosts the event. The meetings also help set the agenda for the yearly IISS Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, scheduled for early June.

“I think it goes without saying that this is a challenging and dynamic time in our region as Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region more generally cope with the aftereffect of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising great power competition and the challenge of particular flashpoints, from the Himalayas to Myanmar to the South China Sea to the Taiwan Strait,” James Crabtree, executive director of IISS-Asia, said in introducing Heng.

The question, Crabtree said, is how to respond as a region to the challenges. Heng’s answer: Working together.

Specifically, Heng suggested “revitalizing our collective commitment to build a cohesive region, within ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the Asia-Pacific, via the array of existing regional institutions.” Cohesion will not eliminate differences but will give policymakers a framework for resolving disagreements peacefully, Heng said. “Within ASEAN,” he said, “it is imperative for members to consider the collective interest of the region even as each of us pursue our legitimate national interests.”

While making a case for ASEAN centrality, he added: “We welcome participation of stakeholders that ensure the freedom and the rules-based order within this region so that everybody can prosper.”

Heng pointed to security challenges, including the risk of misunderstanding and conflict among burgeoning militaries, and threats to international order. “Without regard or respect for international law, rules and norms, the survival of security, peace and progress of states big and small, and the functioning of the regional organizations to which they belong, would certainly be undermined,” he said.

He applauded the work of subregional groups such as the Malacca Straits Patrol, undertaken by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to ensure the waterway’s security, and the Trilateral Cooperative Agreement among Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to address transnational crime in the Sulu and Celebes seas. He also pointed to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States, and AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership among Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., encouraging policymakers to promote partnerships with minilateral groups. “Such efforts, done well together, will go a long way in providing reassurance, preventing misunderstanding and then be able to positively contribute to the security of the region,” Heng said.



Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button