China-Singapore to establish secure defence communications link

Important for strengthening mutual understanding and trust, says Singapore

China Singapore defence ministers meet Chinese Defence Minister Gen Li Shangfu, (front centre) inspects the honor guard with Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (right) in Singapore | AP

The defence chiefs of China and Singapore on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a secure defence telephone link between the countries for high-level communications between military leaders. The move comes amidst Beijing's aggressive actions in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.

The MoU was signed during the Singapore-China Defence Ministers’ Dialogue, co-chaired by Chinese General Li Shangfu and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen, South China Morning Post reported. This is General Li Shangfu's first visit to Singapore. 

“Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed here, the defence establishments in both countries will work towards setting up a secure line for high-level communications between their respective defence leaders,” Singapore's Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement. “Such high-level open lines of communication are important for strengthening mutual understanding and trust,” it said.

The statement said that the communication link would be set up between Permanent Secretary (Defence) Chan Heng Kee and China People's Liberation Army Deputy Chief of Joint Staff Central Military Commission Lieutenant-General Jing Jianfeng. 

Gen Li is in Singapore from Thursday to Sunday and will attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defence summit, which is being held from Friday to Sunday. As part of his visit, Gen Li co-chaired the second Singapore-China Defence Ministers' Dialogue (DMD) with Dr Ng on Thursday.

“Both the Defence Ministers' Dialogue and the MOU are initiatives under the enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation signed in 2019,” a release from Singapore's defence ministry said.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). At the Shangri-La Dialogue, those attending typically debate the region's security challenges, engage in bilateral talks, and come up with fresh approaches together at the dialogue, said the IISS on its website.

The keynote address for this year's conference will be delivered by Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the dialogue's opening dinner on Friday. Among the speakers at the dialogue are the United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Austin is expected to speak at the first plenary session, titled United States' leadership in the Indo-Pacific, on Saturday, while Reznikov will be among five speakers at a session, titled Managing Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific Security, on Saturday.

China's military has been behaving aggressively in the region where it is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.

Beijing has also built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade. Dr Ng will host the ministerial round tables at the dialogue on Saturday and Sunday. 

(With PTI inputs.)

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