South-east Asia must not become ‘an arena for proxy wars’, the nation state’s foreign minister said
Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent
Mon 1 May 2023 10.20 BST
Singapore has strongly backed the Aukus defence pact, with ministers saying they trust Australia to play a bigger role in regional security and don’t want south-east Asia to become “an arena for proxy wars”.
After talks with Australian counterparts in Canberra on Monday, Singaporean ministers reaffirmed Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would be welcome to visit once in service.
Singapore, in turn, received assurances from the Albanese government that Australia would remain a reliable supplier of gas.
Aukus has received a mixed response from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with Indonesia and Malaysia the most vocal in expressing concerns that the deal could add to a regional arms race.
But Singapore is relatively comfortable with Australia’s multi-decade plans to acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines with help from the US and the UK.
Singapore’s minister for foreign affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, said he had “absolutely no reason to doubt Australia’s commitment” to fulfilling its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“When we say that we believe Australia is a constructive partner, it’s absolutely sincere,” he said.
“So even on Aukus … insofar as it contributes constructively to regional security we’re in support of it. We are comfortable with all the three partners within Aukus because with each of them we’ve had long-term relationships and that’s why I think we’re able to work together.”
Balakrishnan said Singapore wanted to ensure free access to the contested South China Sea as a right under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea “and not by permission or grace of any power”.
Singapore’s defence minister, Ng Eng Hen, told reporters after the meeting that he believed Australia could “play a bigger role in our region”.
He said Australia was “not just an Indo-Pacifc country, but an Asian country”.
“We would welcome Australia’s ships and planes to our bases and ultimately when your submarines are ready we would welcome them to call on our ports.”