Last week, Thailand’s chief of defense forces paid his introductory visit to Singapore under his current position. The trip, along with the interactions therein, once again underscored the defense ties underway between the two Southeast Asian states, amid broader domestic and regional changes.
As I have noted before in these pages, Singapore and Thailand have a defense relationship that includes not only traditional aspects like exchanges, visits, and exercises, but also components such as an overseas training area for Singapore in Thailand, one of several arrangements that the land scarce city-state has with partners including the United States and Australia (See: “Strengthening the US-Singapore Strategic Partnership”). The two countries are also involved in multilateral interactions including the Cobra Gold exercises, which Thailand hosts annually along with the United States.
The development of the defense relationship has continued on into 2018, during which Singapore is chairing ASEAN before it will transfer that role onto Thailand for 2019. On the exercises front, for instance, both sides have continued the momentum of their drills, including the 20th iteration of their army exercise, Kocha Singa, in late April to early May, and the 19th iteration of their naval exercise, Exercise Singsiam in June, hosted by Thailand and held in the Gulf of Thailand.
This week, the defense side of the Singapore-Thailand relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of the Chief of Defense Forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) General Ponpipaat Benyasri. Ponpipaat is on his introductory visit to Singapore from November 13 to 15. His trip came months before repeatedly postponed elections to return Thailand to democratic rule; the ruling junta now say the polls will happen sometime next year during the same time that the country is chairing ASEAN. Scrutiny regarding the country’s ongoing domestic political developments has often spilled over into security developments as well, with a focus on recent developments including military reshuffles and key appointments.
Ponpipat’s trip saw him engage in a series of interactions, including meeting top Singapore defense officials such as Defense Minister Ng Eng and Chief of Defense Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong. Singapore’s defense ministry said that during their meeting, Ng and Ponpipat reaffirmed the defense relationship and discussed a wide range of issues, from practical cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism to the state of multilateral groupings such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM-Plus.