Singapore wants US to remain engaged in Southeast Asia

Singapore Second Foreign Minister Lui Tuck 

Singapore - 

Singapore - The friction in relationship between China and Southeast Asian nations came to fore again as Beijing warned its southeastern neighbours against hyping a dispute over the South China Sea at last week’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. As tensions with China rise, Southeast Asian nations are increasingly seeking to shore up ties with the US.

A senior minister from ASEAN member Singapore has told Muscat Daily that it is important for the US to remain engaged in the region. "For many decades now they [the US] have been a benign influence in Asia and in Southeast Asia. If you look at the wars in Southeast Asia in the 70s - in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos - we believe that it was timely intervention by the United States that helped avert the possibility of Communists sweeping through Southeast Asia. So, the United States has been part of the landscape for quite a long time already," Singapore’s Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Transport Lui Tuck Yew said.

Earlier in April this year, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta chose his Shangri-La Dialogue speech in Singapore to announce his country’s decision to deploy a bulk of its naval fleet in Asia Pacific 2020. Owing to the city state's strategic location, the US plans to deploy four new warships in Singapore's Changi Naval Base.

Yew, who was Singapore’s Chief of Navy from 1999-2003, supported the US decision but at the same time denied reports that US will have a permanent base in Singapore. "The US has made a proposal to deploy up to four littoral combat ships here in Singapore. But... this is not like Singapore being one of their naval bases because the US naval bases are huge facilities which will probably take up far too much land than what we are able to afford.  So, if you talk about them bringing families over, having housing and setting up a naval base here, that is not going to be the case," he explained.

"The littoral combat ships that they are talking about is slightly different in nature in a sense that these ships are probably going to spend more time in this part of the world and so rather than make that long transit back and forth to continental US, what they would do probably is actually to do turnover of the crew here. So, it saves the transit time for the ships and you have what is called more on-station time," he added.

Yew clarified that the facilities at Changi Naval Base are not exclusive to any particular navy. "We welcome the interactions that we can have with any navy that may wish to do port calls. Over the years, we have navies from other nations including India, Egypt, Pakistan and even China making use of these facilities," he said.

The senior Singaporean minister stressed that the US naval presence in the region should not be seen as a counter-blance to China. "There are those who would want to read a more sinister reasoning.  But I think it is no bad thing for the United States to remain engaged in the area."

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