Asia Minute: China and Singapore to Increase Joint Military Exercises

May 30, 2019

Credit Ronald Lee / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

President Trump’s recent visit to Japan included a stop on a Japanese helicopter carrier. The president talked about military exercises involving regional allies, but China is having similar discussions this week.

China and Singapore are updating a defense agreement. And one result is likely to be increased joint military exercises.

That word came from Singapore’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday after China’s defense minister met with his Singaporean counterpart.

China does take part in some regional exercises — including a drill last fall with ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A smaller regional set of maneuvers was held in April.

But it is unusual for a country close to the United States to engage in bilateral naval exercises with China. Singapore did that in 2015, and will be doing more — although details have yet to be announced.

Singapore’s Defense Minister dismissed the idea that this signifies any change of policy or approach for Singapore — saying the announcement is not meant to be a “bellwether of anything.”

The small Southeast Asian country is already known for hedging its bets – making it a point to maintain good relations with both China and the United States.

Just in March, Singapore’s defense minister told Parliament the country plans to buy up to a dozen F-35 stealth warplanes from the United States. At the time, the Ministry of Defense said the move was for Singapore’s own defense, and was not designed to align itself with any particular country.