SINGAPORE – United States Defence Secretary James Mattis has reaffirmed the US commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and the desire to deepen even further bilateral defence ties with Singapore, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
He also revealed in a Facebook posting on Thursday (Apr 6) morning that Mr Mattis will be attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an annual security dialogue that is usually held in late May and often features top brass military and defence personnel.
Dr Ng, who is making a working visit to the US, met with Mr Mattis at the Pentagon on Wednesday (US time), and described their meeting as “warm and productive”.
“We discussed common security challenges including the threat of terrorism and ways to deal with them. I look forward to returning the warm hospitality when Secretary Mattis attends the Shangri-La Dialogue in June this year,” wrote Dr Ng.
According to a transcript of an interview with Channel NewsAsia in Washington DC, Dr Ng described Mr Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, as someone who has strategies, and plans, and vast experience in the US military.
“He gave a reassuring calm, and in his words, he’s now become the ‘Secretary of Reassurance’. So I was very happy with the outcome of that,” said Dr Ng.
“I think it bodes well from the security point, America’s commitment to the region, and not only commitment to the region, but commitment towards Asia-Pacific stability… There is much reassurance and confidence that Secretary Mattis is there.”
Dr Ng added that both countries remain committed to the enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed in 2015, which will further collaboration in new areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defence, biosecurity and public communications.
Singapore also remains committed to facilitating the use of Changi Naval Base and its air bases by American forces, said Dr Ng.
He said the purpose of his trip from Sunday to Wednesday (Apr 2-5) was to get a better feel of how to engage the US as there have been “several levels of uncertainty, unpredictability, new administration” under President Donald Trump since the latter took office on Jan 20.
“We thought the best way to do that is to meet the individuals, the ambassadors, and we lined up a significant number of calls with old friends of Singapore who understand the politics, who understand the history of Singapore and relations with the US, and understand our region,” said Dr Ng.
He said it has been a very useful trip, not only a voyage of discovery, but also one of reassurance and reaffirmation by many strong friends and supporters of Singapore in Washington, “who have given us very good guide posts and who also gave us strong assurance that you can call on them if need be”.
Asked about the upcoming Mar-a-Lago Summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the US, Dr Ng said it is a “good development” that both leaders are meeting as it is better for both countries to be cooperating than to be in an antagonistic relationship.
He said Singapore believes it would be healthy for the US and China to agree to avoid trade wars and to help both sides grow economically.
“Because from Singapore’s perspective, we benefit whenever global trade goes up. And, simplistically, if there are protectionist measures from any one country, retaliation, the effect is, as we’ve known from past experience is that global trade just goes down,” added Dr Ng.
“So that will be one clear feature that we want.”