India, Singapore join hands for enhanced maritime security
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday said he will “encourage” Indian naval ships to visit Changi Naval Base in Singapore, close to the South China Sea, more often, as the two countries vowed to strengthen defence ties and signed an agreement on naval cooperation.
The Changi Naval base is located along the Singapore Strait, which through the Karimata Strait leads to the South China Sea, an area witnessing escalating tension with China claiming almost 80 per cent of the waters as its territory.
Speaking at a joint press conference after holding the second Singapore-India Defence Ministers’ Dialogue here, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her Singapore counterpart stressed on ensuring freedom of navigation, and maintaining international rule of law.
In response to a question on whether Singapore would allow operational turnaround to Indian naval ships at their naval base, Ng said: “I would respond categorically — I would not just be comfortable, I would encourage the Indian Navy to visit Changi Naval Base more often.”
Ng said a bilateral naval agreement signed by the two countries on Wednesday has provision for logistics support.
“The bilateral naval agreement has provision for mutual logistics support. We will exercise and patrol in your waters as you do in ours. We will try to economise and support each other,” he said.
The Singapore minister called for more activities in the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca which is one of the most important trade routes and the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
“I think I speak on behalf of both countries…we want to see more participation and activity in both Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea,” he said.
Almost half of the world’s total annual seaborne trade by volume passes through the Malacca Strait, and earlier this year India deployed a naval ship west to the strait. Around 80 per cent of China’s oil imports and 11 per cent of natural gas imports transit through the Strait of Malacca, while almost 40 per cent of India-bound ships also pass through this strait.
A joint statement issued by the two countries said the India-Singapore Bilateral Naval Agreement would lead to increased cooperation in maritime security, joint exercises and temporary deployments.
Sitharaman, in the bilateral meeting, called for institutionalising naval engagements in the shared maritime space, including setting up maritime exercises with like-minded countries and other Asean partners.
Welcoming the proposal, Ng said an institutionalised mechanism would lead to “more bilateral and multilateral maritime exchanges, especially in India’s waters as well as Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean and Andaman sea”.
The two sides reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation and trade consistent with international laws. This comes in the backdrop of China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea and the increased presence of Chinese naval ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.
The two countries also discussed cooperation on terrorism, including information sharing.
“India and Singapore remain strongly committed to tackling trans-national security threats, in particular the menace posed by international terrorism,” Sitharaman said.
Ng added that both countries shared concern over the developments in Iraq and Syria, adding that the “theatre of operation” for the terrorists could shift to “our parts of the world”.