Trade, freedom of navigation efforts uniting Singapore, Vietnam

Trade, freedom of navigation efforts uniting Singapore, Vietnam

Tom Abke

Common economic interests and shared concerns for regional stability and free and open waters for trade and transportation are drawing Singapore and Vietnam into a closer defense relationship. This was demonstrated by the recent visit to Singapore by a high-level delegation of Vietnamese defense officials led by Senior Lt. Gen. Phan Van Giang, Vietnamese Army chief of staff and deputy minister of national defence.

The February 28-March 2, 2019, trip was Giang’s first official visit to the island nation. He met with Singaporean Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen as well as Singaporean Chief of Defence Force Lt. Gen. Melvyn Ong. He also visited the Singapore Army’s Pasir Laba Camp, where he viewed a demonstration of an infantry gunnery and tactical simulator.

The defense leaders “reaffirmed the warm and friendly defense relationship between Singapore and Vietnam,” Ng’s ministry reported in a news release, “and exchanged views on regional and international security issues of mutual interest.”

The militaries of the countries, which are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), regularly interact “through high-level visits, professional exchanges, cross-attendance of courses, port calls and multilateral exercises,” the release added.

In 2018, both navies participated in the 17th annual U.S. Navy-led multilateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercise in August and September, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Defence. In November 2018, their Armies participated in the ASEAN Armies Rifle Meet (AARM), an annual rifle, pistol and machine gun competition that involves ASEAN member nations.

Vietnamese Army officers and defense personnel have participated in a number of training courses on staff and command, navy, air force, submarine and English with Singaporean military personnel, reported PANO, the official news service of the Vietnamese People’s Army.

Ng characterized Singapore’s defense cooperation with Hanoi as among the “most important pillars” of their relationship, according to the Vietnam News Agency (VNA), Vietnam’s official state news agency. The countries share challenges in the South China Sea and strategic competition from larger countries, Ng said.

The South China Sea, which both countries border, is the site of ongoing territorial disputes involving the People’s Republic of China and ASEAN members Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Ng expressed hope that Vietnam, in its role as the chair of ASEAN in 2020, will launch initiatives that enhance the structure of regional security, VNA added.

The meeting between Giang and Singaporean Defence Force Chief Melvyn ushered in an agreement for enhanced defense cooperation, particularly at sea, VNA reported, as well as in delegation exchanges and humanitarian aid and disaster relief. (Pictured: Vietnamese Army Chief of Staff Senior Lt. Gen. Phan Van Giang inspects Singaporean Soldiers.)

The countries signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2009 that called for a regular exchange of visits, cross-attendance of training courses and an annual Vietnam-Singapore defense dialogue at the deputy minister level.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.