Developing a resilient Regional Security Architecture in a time of Geopolitical Uncertainty


Dr Chipman, my fellow panelists, Minister Mitchell and General Fomin, first, on behalf of the Singapore Government and MINDEF, allow us - those who are here today, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, myself, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Senior Minister of State (Dr) (Mohamad) Maliki (Bin Osman), Permanent Secretary for Defence (Chan Yeng Kit), and Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) - (to) bid all of you a very warm welcome. This is the last session so it is actually welcomed, and have a safe journey home. But thank you for being here. I want to thank Dr Chipman, the Board of Trustees, and the staff of International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). John said that I was busy, but I think that we have all been equally busy and I want to thank your staff and your Board of Trustees for their contributions toward this premier security forum in the Asia Pacific region. I also want to thank many of you who have fed back positive comments about those who have facilitated your visit, your calls and to make this of value to you. Many of them are from the SAF, and I will pass your word of thanks to them. Whether it is from the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers of the Singapore Government, IISS, various workers, (the) SAF, I think collectively, we have sought to make this forum a relevant and impactful event in Asia and it has been your strong support and contributions that allow the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) to play this role. There are some among you who were here at the inauguration of the first SLD 16 years ago and have attended every of its annual meetings since. Remember when Prime Minister Turnbull named the Australians that were involved in it? Indeed, some of them were actually at the dinner. Our presence here is a natural, physical extension of that commitment to dialogue, cooperation and establishing a rules-based order - a phrase that has been repeatedly used in this SLD - where all independent states, small or large, can thrive, and we recognise that that is essential for peace, stability and progress for this region. But a rules-based order must not only encompass the security domain but also into other areas - trade, finance, legal systems - and collective response to deal with threats which are common, that affect the well-being of our people or this planet.

Prevailing Geopolitical Uncertainty

Much has happened since the last SLD that pose new challenges since we last met in this same room last year, even altered fundamentals on our path towards shared security, stability and prosperity for all. A new US administration under President Trump has cascaded a re-visiting of rules and practices governing trade for our region. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is its first and heaviest casualty. That original agreement came after nearly six years of hard negotiations. Of the original 12 member states, the US market alone is about 70% of the rest combined. With the US out of the TPP, a TPP 11 is being promoted, driven mainly by Japan, Australia and New Zealand. If acceded to, TPP 11 accounts for 13% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), still significant and one that will benefit our businesses and workers.

In contrast, China has stepped on the pedal to push ahead with its plans to be a leader for trade in the Asia Pacific region, if not the world. Singapore strongly supports the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which recently successfully completed its inaugural summit last month. In addition to Singapore's geographic location as a strategic node on the maritime Silk Road, we have worked with China to jointly develop a new "Southern Transport Corridor" that links Chongqing to Singapore through Guangxi. This will connect the overland Silk Road Economic Belt with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. With the support of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the vision of the OBOR is a bold one and in some geographic regions, even picks up from where other historical empires had left off. Especially for Central Asia, the Economic Belt envisions a resurrection of the Silk Road but on a far grander scale than ever envisioned. In 2015, China announced plans to build 81,000km, or about 50,000 miles, of high-speed railway, involving 65 countries. Whether from Kashgar to Karachi and Gwadar, Yiwu to London, Harbin to Hamburg or Chongqing to Singapore, this rail expansion is on a scale not seen since the expansion of rail networks during the Industrial revolution in the 19th century and which transformed Western Europe. If achieved, OBOR can set Asia on a higher trajectory of progress, and Singapore supports China's bold vision. The Chinese also are pushing ahead with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, among countries that account for 30% of global GDP and more than a quarter of world exports.

We are in a security forum, but I begin with trade because that is the raison d'A�tre for our meetings. We must be mindful that security and stability are pre-conditions and mutually reinforcing steps toward greater prosperity and progress. The two fields should complement and synergise to provide a virtuous balance. These truisms hold constant, despite fluctuating trade patterns for individual countries. More than 30 years ago, in 1985, the US Congress was, similar to today's America First policy, also considering protectionist measures to address a record trade deficit. Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited US then and spoke at the National Press Club in Washington DC. His words are relevant today, as then.

"For 40 years since the end of World War II, the world had avoided major wars because of open and free trade. This enabled many nations to realise their potential and enjoy great abundance by exporting their goods and services, instead of exporting themselves and their systems and imposing their wills on other peoples in other lands. "

With our trade, at three and a half times our GDP, Singapore's fortunes are inextricably tied to global trade. As Singapore assumes Chairmanship of ASEAN next year, we will do our best to attain this balance between security and trade interests. It is an important and worthy goal and the reasons plentiful - 600 million, to be exact. 600 million people in ASEAN that depend on continuing and growing trade. ASEAN, with a per capita GDP of only US$3,800 at current prices, needs to elevate its standard of living and has great potential to do so. Between 2010 and 2015, ASEAN's collective GDP grew around 5% per year, compared to the global average of 3%. ASEAN continues to be one of the bright spots of the global economy. Trade deals like the TPP11, OBOR, RCEP and a potential EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement set ASEAN on the right trajectory and Singapore fully supports and will facilitate all these initiatives.

Security Threats to our Stability

But for trade to flourish, conditions must be stable and we need to address in the near and medium term together, two specific security challenges, that are clear and present threats, that my fellow members have highlighted - North Korea and terrorism.

I state the obvious in repeating that North Korea's nuclear programme can disrupt regional stability and prosperity. All of us are deeply concerned by the series of deliberate and provocative actions by North Korea, including the two nuclear tests in January and September last year, and the series of missile launches since the start of this year. These are dangerous and destabilising acts.

The international community has urged North Korea to refrain from further provocations and hope that it would integrate itself into the region to share in our peace and prosperity. We also hope the major players on the Korean Peninsula can resume dialogue to prevent deterioration of conditions.

Closer to home and as you heard repeatedly, terrorism is our biggest security concern in Southeast Asia (and) indeed globally. Even as this conference ensued, events are unfolding in Marawi and in London. On the eve of Ramadan, ISIS had called for an "all-out war" on the West. The ferocity and frequency of attacks in UK, as recent as yesterday, and European countries even when conducted by single individuals or small groups are a grim reminder of the harm to our citizens, if ISIS related or inspired attacks occur here.

And the threat in this region has heightened, including for Singapore, and is likely to worsen with the potential return of more fighters from the Middle East. Our Ministry of Home Affairs has sensed that the terrorist threat has increased. Over the past two years, multiple attacks have occurred in our region, including in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Pattani. Just last week, another attack occurred in Jakarta, and Mindanao is still under martial law. The events at Marawi, where tens of thousands of civilians were forced from their homes, is worrisome, as it reminds us that mass migrations from extremist terror can occur in Southeast Asia too.

We know of at least 31 terrorist groups in this region that have pledged allegiance to ISIS, and there is evidence of increasing transnational cooperation among regional terror networks.

Terrorists in this region are utilising existing transnational criminal networks, that traffic humans and weapons. The terrain - porous borders and dense jungles in this region - provide easy access and safe havens for terrorist training camps. If these groups further entrench themselves in our region, more attacks will occur in ASEAN. We must prevent ASEAN from entrenching itself in this tragic fate.

Intelligence is key in the fight against terrorists. Singapore has stepped up our information-sharing and intelligence cooperation with other countries. Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have also announced their plans to carry out joint patrols in the Sulu Sea earlier this year. Singapore has offered the assistance of our Information Fusion Centre in Changi Naval Base to the Sulu Sea patrols to combat maritime terrorism and kidnappings. At this SLD, on the sidelines, the Five Power Defence Arrangements Ministers committed to deal with the terrorist threat to Malaysia and Singapore, and to start with information-sharing. These partnership initiatives can have an impact. For example, the Malacca Strait Patrols, involving Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, have reduced piracy, robbery, kidnapping and smuggling incidents since it started in 2006.

General Fomin mentioned the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting - Plus (ADMM-Plus) and I thank him for his support. The ADMM-Plus also coordinated and conducted a Maritime Security and Counter Terrorism exercise in May of last year. It was the largest ADMM-Plus exercise to date and these regional efforts are necessary to effectively counter the scourge of terror.

Leveraging the RSA to tackle Transnational Threats

The ADMM and ADMM-Plus are valuable platforms to deal with security threats together, and build trust and confidence. As Chairman of the ADMM in 2018, my Ministry proposes to facilitate three initiatives that will strengthen defence ties and help reduce tensions and the risk of miscalculations in this region. First, to initiate an inaugural ASEAN-China maritime exercise to promote collaboration and deepen co-operation. Second, to expand the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, or CUES in short, to all ADMM-Plus countries and third, to establish a set of guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft for ASEAN, similar to that, which has already been agreed to, in the US-China Memorandum of Understanding on the Rules of Behaviour for Safety of Air-to-Air Encounters.

CUES will be practised in a planned ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise, which Singapore will facilitate as ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations Coordinator. CUES will also be practised in an upcoming ADMM-Plus maritime security exercise that Singapore will co-organise with the Republic of Korea.

To strengthen the ADMM-Plus, Singapore and Vietnam have also jointly proposed for the ADMM-Plus to be annualised from 2017 onwards. We currently meet every two years. When we first started, we met every three years. But as confidence grew and the importance of these meetings grow, there have been calls to have them on an annual basis and we believe it is time to annualise our ADMM-Plus meetings so that we can address the growing security challenges affecting our region more effectively and in a more timely manner.


As Asia rises, our shared interests grow and we must step up collective efforts to maintain peace and stability in this region. May we all contribute, work towards and live in peaceful times and prosper. Let me again thank you all again for your presence and contributions at this SLD. Thank you very much.