On January 7, the Singaporean Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) announced that Permanent Secretary of Defense Chiang Chie Foo and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian signed the first bilateral agreement for defense exchanges and security cooperation between the countries. The deal was signed at the close of the inaugural China-Singapore Defense Policy Dialogue (DPD), co-organized by MINDEF and PLA and held in China (MINDEF, January 7).
The MINDEF stated that the agreement would formalize existing defense activities in the forms of exchanges of visits, attendance at courses, seminars and reciprocal port calls between Singapore and China. The agreement also covers new areas of cooperation, which includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (MINDEF, January 7). The idea of a defense agreement between the two countries was first raised during a meeting between Singaporean Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Defense Minister General Cao Gangchuan in November 2005, followed by an agreement between the two defense ministers to work toward establishing a bilateral defense framework during General Cao’s visit to Singapore in April 2006. The MINDEF emphasized that the defense agreement is “a natural progression from the deepening of bilateral economic and diplomatic ties in recent years” (MINDEF, January 7).
In recent years, China’s rise has led some experts to assert that Singapore and countries in the region will be increasingly drawn into the sphere of China’s economic and political orbit (Central News Agency [Taiwan], January 8). On top of offering a lucrative market for regional economies, in 2001 China offered facilities on the Hainan Islands for the Singapore military to use in place of its long-standing military arrangement with Taiwan, code-named Operation Hsing Kuang (Starlight). According to a report released by the London-based Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Singaporean “conservative leadership would be disinclined to widely expose their regular troops to mainland Chinese influences” (AFP, February 12, 2001). Moreover, objection from allies over concerns of a possible transfer of sensitive U.S. military technologies to the Chinese military put a hamper on deepening defense relations in spite of burgeoning economic ties. Therefore, the recent defense agreement has Singapore’s neighbors and the U.S. administration keenly watching to see how the Singapore and China defense relationship evolves (Central News Agency [Taiwan], January 8).