This week, Singapore’s defense minister paid a visit to Japan. The interaction once again put the spotlight on the defense aspect of the relationship between the two countries amid wider domestic and regional developments underway.
As I have noted before in these pages, Singapore and Japan enjoy a close relationship, which has long included a defense component as well. Over time and following a series of inflection points, including the signing of the Singapore-Japan Memorandum on Defense Exchanges in 2009, the defense relationship has grown to include various components, including visits, policy dialogues, military staff talks, mutual port visits, and cross-attendance at courses and seminars.
That has continued on over the past year or so as well amid wider developments, be it Japan’s ongoing efforts to strengthen defense ties with Southeast Asian states or Singapore’s continued contributions to regional security, with a recent case in point being the co-hosting of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) multilateral exercise with South Korea. And as members of the U.S. alliance and partnership network, the two countries have also been participating in wider interactions as well involving other regional states.
This week, the defense aspect of the Singapore-Japan relationship was in the headlines again with the visit of Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen to Japan. Ng was on a three-day working visit to Tokyo that lasted from May 20 to May 23.
Ng’s visit comprised of a series of engagements. In terms of meetings, in addition to his counterpart Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, Ng also met with Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Kentaro Sonoura, National Security Secretariat Secretary-General Shotaro Yachi, and former Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera.
According to Singapore’s defense ministry, during the meeting between the two defense ministers – their second, with the first occurring during the fifth iteration of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus in October 2018 shortly after Iwaya had taken office – both sides took stock of the state of the bilateral relationship and discussed ways to advance it in certain areas. In a statement, Japan’s defense ministry said that the two sides talked about issues of mutual interest in the region and the world, including North Korea and the South China Sea, and that they had also discussed Japan’s new five-year national defense program guidelines, which recently came into effect.
While few additional details were publicly disclosed about the private deliberations between the two sides, MINDEF Singapore said that Ng’s visit to Japan underscored the warm and friendly bilateral defense relationship between the two countries.