By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2013 – The United States-Singapore relationship takes on particular importance in light of the Defense Department’s strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today during a joint press conference with Singapore Defense Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen.
Singapore is making important contributions to U.S. counter piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, in addition to being a significant partner in Afghanistan, he added.
The defense secretary also noted that Singapore provides logistical support to U.S. military aircraft and ships operating in the Pacific Ocean.
“This … enables our forces to maintain a strong forward presence in that part of the world,” Hagel said.
During their meeting, Hagel and Ng also discussed new ways to increase bilateral collaboration in cyber and maritime security. The two countries are seeking to develop more complex exercises and to conduct additional exercises involving more nations, Hagel said.
China’s unilateral decision to expand its air defense identification zone into the East China Sea was an attempt to “influence the status quo,” Hagel said. And while the move has raised regional tensions, he noted, it will not change how the U.S. military operates in the region.
“The United States will continue to stand by our allies and partners in the Asia Pacific … [and] remains committed to the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific in every way and to our important partnership with Singapore,” the defense secretary said.
The U.S.-China relationship will impact all countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Ng said. There will be strategic competition, he added, but President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have indicated “that the Pacific region is big enough to accommodate both a resident power and a rising power.”
Existing platforms like the Shangri-La Dialogues and the upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can help prevent tensions and avoid conflict, Ng said. And the longstanding U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region has been a critical force for stability, he added.
It was in this light that Singapore signed a memorandum of agreement in 1990 to allow U.S. ships and aircraft to transit Singaporean naval and air bases, he said. A strategic framework signed in 2005 paved the way for the recent and future deployments of littoral combat ships, Ng added. These rotational deployments are expected to continue through at least 2015, Hagel said.
“The deployment of these ships is part of our commitment to a deepening military engagement in the Asia-Pacific,” Hagel added.
Yesterday, Ng visited the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s Peace Carvin II F-16 Fighting Falcon training detachment at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary. The detachment also held an integrated live-fire exercise as part of the annual Forging Sabre exercise, and U.S. Marines demonstrated the F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft, Ng said.
The United States hosts several Singapore Air Force training detachments for both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
Singapore is “seriously looking” at replacing its F-16 fleet with the F-35B, Ng said. But, he continued, “We’re in no particular hurry, because our F-16s are still very operational, and they’re due for upgrades. But it is a serious consideration.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)
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