OLD FRIENDS

Thailand 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Dr. Ng Eng Hen, Minister of Defense of Singapore, on the close bilateral relationship between the countries, defense ties, and the importance of the AEC.

 Dr. Ng Eng Hen
BIOGRAPHY
A member of Singapore’s governing People’s Action Party (PAP), Dr. Ng Eng Hen has been the Minister for Defense since 2011. He previously served as the Minister for Manpower from 2004 to 2008 and Minister for Education from 2008 to 2011, as well as the Leader of the House in Parliament from 2011 to 2015. Ng has been a Member of Parliament representing the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency (GRC) since 2001.

What were the outcomes from your recent meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha?

I am pleased to have met Prime Minister Prayut as well as my counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, during my last visit to Thailand in November 2015. Besides thanking Thailand for its friendship, another objective for my visit was also to reaffirm the excellent bilateral relationship between both countries. Defense is a key pillar of this bilateral relationship. We value our defense relations with Thailand. We have a long history of military exercises and joint training together, between both armies, navies, and air forces. We agreed that both countries share the same desire to further strengthen our defense relationship so as to foster mutual understanding and interoperability between both armed forces. Singapore sees Thailand as a critical and valuable player in ASEAN for peace and stability in the region. I discussed regional and international security developments with Prime Minister Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit, where we agreed on the need for an open, inclusive, and robust regional security architecture. As fellow members of ASEAN, we share similar perspectives on security issues confronting our region. Terrorism is one common transnational threat that both countries face, and one that necessitates cooperation from our key partners in the region. No one country has the resources to address these threats alone and it is important for countries to undertake practical cooperative activities that will build mutual trust and confidence, as well as enhance our capabilities to address these threats.

How would you assess the bilateral defense relationship between Singapore and Thailand?

Defense relations between Singapore and Thailand are close and long-standing. This is reflected in the frequent exchange of high-level visits, as well as military exercises and professional interactions across all three services. Most recently, our air forces concluded a trilateral exercise, Ex Cope Tiger, with the US in March 2016, and both armies conducted Ex Kocha Singa in February 2016. We also work together at multilateral events like the ADMM, ADMM-Plus, and the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD).

What are your expectations for bilateral defense ties between Thailand and Singapore in the year ahead?

Just last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We have an excellent defense relationship, which I am confident will continue. In addition, we are always striving to do more to strengthen the relationship and people-to-people ties of both armed forces. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for Thailand's strong support for the SAF's training in Thailand for many years. I am also appreciative of Thailand's strong support for Singapore-hosted multilateral events like Singapore Airshow and SLD, and I hope Thailand would continue this for SLD16, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary.

In your view, what impact will the opening of the ASEAN Economic Community have on defense cooperation and regional security?

The AEC aims to build closer economic ties amongst the 10 ASEAN member states. This complements the existing efforts made by the defense establishments under the ADMM framework to foster greater trust and mutual understanding in the region. Beyond measures and policies that will help grow our trade and investments, a wide range of initiatives under the AEC—encompassing tourism development, infrastructural connectivity, food security, amongst others—have also played an integral role in community building on the economic front. In particular, through inter-governmental cooperation, we have grown to understand and develop shared policy and regulatory objectives. ASEAN's economic and technical capacity building efforts, especially in supporting the development of our least developed member states to narrow the development gaps on the economic front, has also engendered greater cohesion. Our economic community building efforts and the closer relationships between our peoples have therefore fostered a sense of greater trust, kinship and mutual understanding between the 10 member states, and serves as a consistent reminder of our mutual interests in building regional security, stability and success.