Extension of defense pact with Singapore will enable US roil S.China Sea waters

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/28 20:23:40

US President Donald Trump (right) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore hold a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the US on September 23. Photo: AFP

Editor's Note:

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump on September 23 renewed the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding Regarding United States' Use of Facilities In Singapore, a key defense pact between the two countries, and extended it by another 15 years to 2035. How will this move influence security in the Asia-Pacific region? Will peace and stability in the South China Sea be affected? Global Times reporter Li Qingqing talked to two Chinese experts on the issues.

Ge Hongliang, research fellow with the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities

Security cooperation between Singapore and the US started long ago. The US has used the military facilities of the ASEAN nation for a long time. Although Singapore is not a treaty ally of the US, it maintains close military cooperation with the US and is highly dependent on Washington for security. However, Singapore will never pick sides between China and the US, a fact made clear by the city-state's leaders. Siding with either one would be fatal for the island nation.

The US can use its military bases in Singapore to conduct patrols in the South China Sea. Now that the pact is extended, situation in the South China Sea will be affected. But whether the situation will escalate depends on Washington's further moves in the waters. No matter what, extending the pact will strengthen US military influence in the Asia-Pacific.

Since Trump took office, Singapore and the US have had some disagreements over upholding free trade and multilateralism. However, the two countries have enhanced security cooperation. The Trump administration attaches great importance to the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and one of its important purposes is to provide security guarantee for Southeast Asian countries. The US has long intended to enhance military cooperation with Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore. The US and ASEAN also kicked off their first joint navy drills in early September. Now that the pact with Singapore is extended to 2035, the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and its military presence in the region will further get a boost.

Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The US forces can use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years until 2035. This will undoubtedly augment the US military strength in Southeast Asia, and will further promote the general layout of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. In the sphere of defense and security, Singapore has been dependent on the US, trying to strike the so-called balance of power. This also explains why Singapore's Ministry of Defense said in a statement, "The renewal underscores the support for the US presence in the region, which remains vital for regional peace, stability and prosperity." But this does not mean that Singapore will pick sides between China and the US. 

Singapore hopes the US could play a role in maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia. But to some extent, such an expectation is not in line with the US actual role in the South China Sea. The US has sent its warships to the contested water body for the "freedom of navigation and overflight." This, in fact, is harmful to peace and stability in the region. The renewal of the pact will further destabilize the region. 

China should keep enhancing its military and defense strength so that the country will be more capable of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. Besides, Beijing should work with ASEAN members to promote South China Sea Code of Conduct and make the South China Sea a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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