Last week, Australia’s new defense minister paid his introductory visit to Singapore. The trip and the scope of his engagements in the city-state spotlighted some of the ongoing activity within the defense aspect of the broader relationship between the two countries amid wider domestic and regional developments in the Indo-Pacific.
As I have noted before in these pages, Australia and Singapore have long had a strong defense relationship as part of their wider ties, which were elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2013. Beyond the usual components of defense ties such as intelligence sharing and exercises, Australia is one of the key partner countries where the land-starved Singapore military has conducted overseas training, while the two militaries have participated in joint operational deployments in countries such as Timor-Leste, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The defense relationship has continued to deepen over the past few years in spite of challenges in some aspects, with developments including the upgrading of exercises and exchanges.
Last week, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the introductory visit of Australia’s defense minister to Singapore. Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne, who was sworn into his current position in August 2018, was in the city-state for his introductory visit, which lasted from January 26 to January 28. This was part of a wider, weeklong Asian voyage for Pyne that also included stops in China as well as Japan.
Pyne’s trip comprised a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with several Singapore officials, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen. Per Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), during the meeting between the two defense ministers, both sides reviewed the status of their bilateral defense ties and noted progress made in various aspects, including in the joint development of training areas and advanced training facilities in Queensland. They also discussed regional and international security developments such as counterterrorism and the state of multilateral fora, including the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) and the Five Power Defense Arrangements.
Pyne’s visit also saw him deliver the keynote address at the seventh iteration of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Forum, ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue to be held later this year. Pyne’s remarks were wide-ranging, touching on Australia’s role in the Indo-Pacific region and its strategic outlook, including its increased focus on the Pacific with specific measures within its so-called South Pacific Step-Up.