Asia Defense | Security | Oceania | Southeast Asia

What’s in the New Australia-Singapore White Shipping Pact?

A closer look at the significance of the new agreement.

Prashanth Parameswaran
What’s in the New Australia-Singapore White Shipping Pact?

A Singapore-Australia defense meeting.

Credit: MINDEF Singapore

Late last month, Australia and Singapore concluded a new agreement on white shipping. While the new pact was just one of several engagements between the two sides, it nonetheless put the spotlight on the ongoing activity within the defense aspect of the relationship among both countries amid wider domestic and regional developments.

As I observed previously in these pages, Australia and Singapore have long maintained a security relationship as part of their wider ties, which were elevated to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership back in 2013. Beyond the usual components of this aspect of relations such as exchanges and exercises, both countries are longstanding members of the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA) — the oldest standing multilateral security agreement of its kind in the region — and Australia is among the key places where the Singapore military has conducted overseas training, which it considers critical for its development.

Late last month, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight again with the conclusion of a new agreement. The two countries inked a pact with respect to information sharing on white shipping in a new development for the maritime aspect of their wider security ties.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU), concluded on September 23, was inked by the Republic of Singapore Navy and Australia’s Maritime Border Command (MBC), a multiagency task force within the Australian Border Force. It aims to facilitate information sharing as it relates to the identity and movement of civil vessels, which make up the majority of maritime traffic, in order to both manage challenges to their security as well as to better police the countries’ respective waters more generally.

According to a release issued by the Australian Border Force, the agreement both strengthens collaboration by both countries on maritime security and reflects Australia’s commitment to working with international partners to support regional civil maritime security. Lee Goddard, the Commander of the MBC, said in the release that the pact would allow Australia and Singapore to improve information sharing, build on a range of capabilities, and increase their ability to protect vessels within their waters.

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How exactly both countries will actually implement and operationalize the new MOU remains to be seen. But that will be among the key questions to watch both within the maritime aspect of their ties as well as within the wider security relationship in the months and years that follow.